New Medical School Hopes to Address Primary Care Shortage

Based in Lebanon, COMP Northwest just opened its doors to 107 osteopathic students
The Lund Report

November 3, 2011 -- A single building across the highway from Lebanon Samaritan Medical Center houses Oregon's newest medical school.

Called COMP Northwest (short for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific), the school is a campus of Western University of Health Sciences based in Pomona, Calif.

The school recently opened its doors to 107 first-year students. Officials purposely chose a rural setting, said Dr. Paula Crone, an osteopathic physician and the associate dean, in the hope that graduates will practice in rural areas.

When Crone graduated from medical school in 1992, about 60 to 80 percent chose a primary care practice, while today the average is closer to 40 percent. She anticipates that number will be higher among COMP Northwest graduates. “I think those students who choose to come to Lebanon, Oregon are going to choose family practice.”  

Among the new students, Kody Seeley grew up in a rural ranching community in Colorado, and has seen “both the good and the bad of working in rural medicine.” He holds two bachelor's degrees – one in biology and one in psychology – and was drawn to osteopathic medicine because osteopathic doctors take a holistic approach to working with patients.

Maha Abdulla was a public health microbiologist before deciding to enter medical school and is interested in cranial manipulations, after seeing the impact on patients suffering from chronic pain. She’s also intrigued with genetic and global research, and was encouraged to pursue such a direction during her interview with faculty at COMP-Northwest.

The students also participate in an inter-professional education program with their colleagues from Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College where they discuss patient cases from different perspectives – for instance, a child's visit to a dentist's office, where the provider discovers she has a different illness. They work in small groups along with students in pharmacy, veterinary medicine, public health and nursing.

By the time they graduate, they’re likely to owe $200,000 – which is slightly higher than the average student’s debt of $170,000 at Oregon Health & Science University.

According to a report published by the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2006, the median debt burden for graduates of public medical institutions is $119,000, while private school graduates face a debt of nearly $150,000. The report also notes that medical education debt was 4.5 times as high in 2003 as it was in 1984.

“In my opinion, this first generation of medical students have no idea what medicine is going to look like,” said Crone, due to rapid economic and political changes that make it unclear what opportunities will be available when they graduate and as they continue their practice.

Osteopathic medicine was founded in the 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still, who was deeply critical of the medical establishment and whose practice focused on manipulation of bones and joints. The profession has changed over time and osteopathic physicians have the same privileges as medical doctors, though their emphasis on holistic care and primary care remains.



The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine website is here.


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This is crazy, OHSU is cutting back on medical students and now a DO school which is really for people who can't get into MD programs is opening ( $) . All the DO students I have met, if they can pass the USMLE's try to get into allopathic specitality residencies, rather than make less than a CRNA. Primary care ( adult and pediatric should be handed over to mid-leval practitioners (masters prepared) who follow national guidelines and algorigms and are ' supervised ' by MDs.

The MDs should be both clinically competent and serve as teachers and researchers. Mid- levels should be given advance standing in MD programs if they choose to become ' doctors' . Otherwise we are on the verge of having MDs, DOs , dr RN , naturopaths and who knows what is next-- basically no educational standards , just a diploma off the internet and start your practice. JMM MD

You need to give comments like this a rest. While your specific concerns are valid the conversation is not helped by verbose statements regarding the intent and reason why anyone chooses to go into a specific profession. I am a dentist who was accepted into med school and had an easier time getting into MD program due to demographics and the state I was living in. I chose my path based on personal and professional preferences---but I am sure you have insights on what motivates members of the dental profession. This type of demeaning assessment of ones reason for making a choice about their future focuses attention on your arrogance and therefore distracts from your relevant concerns--and that doesn't help anyone. MP DDS MPH

Unfortunately, not enough MDs are making comments or doing anything to stop this dilution and pollution of educational standards. I worked hard to obtain a BS in science ( Biochem) while working part time as a paramedic , unfortunately I only had a 3.2 GPA when I graduated. I then became an RN (AA) and obtained a MS then went to medical school and did six years of internship and residency . Most applicants to DO program have either been rejected by MD programs for poor scholarship or they never met the pre requirements in the first place. Ask them ! In fact a lot of DO ' schools ' have been set up in shopping centers . Look at the number of DOs in higher paying subspecialties ( mostly allopathic trained), they are not the cure for a lack of primary care , we need to incorporated the mid levels into health delivery in a big way and MDs need to close ranks, take charge and evolve. When a PA or CRNA with master's degree has a starting salary of 120-200 K and a Family Medicine Physician after med school and residency starts at 90 K -115 K , you know there is something wrong with a system that gives disincentives for education. Not to mention that to get into a 2 yr PA program all you need is a high school education. In fact the military has a program for members with a high school degree in which in the first 12mo you ' earn' your BS and the second 12 mo you 'earn ' your master's degree . As far as ' alternative ' medical programs , all MD programs offer exposure to " non- western or alternative medical approaches or therapy " , the NIH offers fellowships in this area. By having physicians who are educated and can offer alternatives ( i.e. immunologist, acupuncture fellowships ), we can hopefully avoid or at least limit some of the' snake oil salesman' disasters that have been occurring with some of the ' alternative ' treatments. MDs again need to be more vocal and evolve faster to make sure the public knows with whom they are dealing and standardize basic requirements. Naturalpathic schools do not have equal educational requirements to OHSU medical school , I checked. Dentists should evolve as well , oral surgeons have an MD , I can not believe that a mid level provider would not be able to provide hygiene and routine dental care and screen for complex cases. My angst is with the MD schools and residency programs ; (1) open up more MD slots and tolerate a higher attrition rate ( it is pathetically low ) (2) primary care should be provided by midlevels with a true master degree and a paid internship with certification in that specific area. They should be ' supervised or given oversight by MDs extensively trained in adult and pediatric medicine- who can consult or manage difficult cases , but mostly teach / research/ administrate as well as review and revise the guidelines/ algorithms which the mid levels should be following. This applies to anesthesia , obstetrics, emergency medicine as well . If mid levels were integrated and the process was linear ( i.e. advanced standing if they wanted to pursue an MD ) , the system could flex to better meet demands. JMM , EMTP, RN , MS , MD etc

There is a real need for more primary care physicians in Oregon, and obvious shortages in rural areas. The challenge for the new COMP campus will be finding quality clinical rotations for the M3 and M4 students. OHSU is already struggling to maintain high quality clinical sites for their students, and essentially doubling the demand without a clear plan for maintaining consistent high quality training is a formula for 'two tier' education. Maintaining a high, consistent standard of clinical education will be a critcal to the eventual reputation of the new COMP campus. I really wish there were better and more collegial cooperation between OHSU and COMP. The obvious rivalry will not end up serving the best interest of patients. Bill Gillanders, Providence Family Medicine Residency Program Adjunct Professor, OHSU

JMM MD needs to get up on the facts about the educational standards of the alt med schools. The naturopathic college in Portland is accredited by the same educational organization that accredits OHSU.