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Study: Cost too high for medical school at SU

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University doesn't have the cash needed to start a medical school even as a study shows doing so could help health care for the region, according to a college official.

The results of a feasibility study which looked at the possibility of the university opening such a school did yield useful information, said John Hachtel, associate vice president for marketing and communications.

"I don't know if it applies to this case but, generally speaking, in order to start a medical school from the ground up, you're probably looking at somewhere in the area of $65 million before you even bring your first student through the door," Hachtel said Tuesday.

That cost includes money for buildings and to hire a dean who would select faculty for the medical school, according to Hachtel. In addition to the start-up cost, the university would face annual expenses for the school.

A press release issued Monday by the university notes the institution could start a medical school only if it had the government funding to create more graduate medical education slots and a "sizable" financial commitment needed to meet new accreditation standards set forth by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

"Certainly we would not look at doing this piecemeal and, for the time being, what we will probably do is think about this as a first step in what may be an extraordinarily long journey," Hachtel said.

Funding for a medical school could come from private and public sources, according to Hachtel. But the university would not use its endowment to fund the start-up of a medical school, he noted.

"We certainly would be interested in exploring a partnership with any of those entities as we look at this as a possibility," Hachtel said.

Benefits of a medical school at the university, according to the study, include: the presence of high-paying jobs as well as increases in community access to health care, patient awareness of issues and the physician supply for Virginia.

"The positives that came out of the study are that we are uniquely positioned to be able to do this if the resources were in place, which is good for us to learn," Hachtel said.

The university paid for the study and initial design work with contributions from Inova Health System and Valley Health. The university's board of trustees will then receive the study's results, according to a press release issued Monday.

The university sought to explore the idea of adding a medical school to its programs based on a looming shortage of health care providers, impending retirement of nearly a third of all active practicing doctors and the baby boomer generation, the release notes.

The study indicates Shenandoah University could help the region address the projected shortages given the college's location, its academic and accreditation strengths and its relationship with the two health systems, according to the release.

"Health education is a significant component of the curriculum at Shenandoah and that's why we embarked on this study because we saw the potential opportunity to introduce a medical curriculum that would be an integrated curriculum," Hachtel said. "We certainly think that we're well poised to handle that kind of thing if the resources come available but at this point we're in a situation where the resources are simply more than we can garner at this point."

Themes resulting from the study show prospective students would like to see the following in a medical school: its focus on the patient as a whole; health care under reforms; use of genomics by doctors; primary care; small class sizes; and expansion of the university's current related programs.

Such a medical school would include faculty already in the health professions programs at the university. New staff would work both in the medical school and other programs, according to the release.

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