At Idaho State University, we are taking bold steps to ease the shortage of primary health care providers in under-served areas and provide medical care to our most vulnerable citizens.
Every year, we award 38 percent of our degrees in the health professions. Many of our graduates in the nurse practitioner, physician assistant studies and dental residency programs choose to practice in rural Idaho, helping to fill the gap in primary care.
Our 13 ISU clinics - including three in Meridian - provide valuable hands-on experience for our students while delivering excellent and affordable medical care. In fiscal year 2012, the clinics had 54,000 patient visits.
We have another opportunity to make a difference.
The Idaho State Board of Education recently approved our plan to construct a Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory at the ISU-Meridian Health Science Center, located north of I-84 at Locust Grove Road.
The A&P Lab, which will consist of several teaching laboratories, will ensure we continue to provide the highest level of health-science education for our students while opening new doors for medical research and clinical trials.
The 8,000 square-foot facility will house integrated physiology labs for biomechanics and functional anatomy. Through distance-learning technology and the Idaho Education Network, ISU will be able to provide anatomy and physiology presentations to every high school in the state. Lessons could include virtual tours of the human body and sessions in forensics, sports medicine, nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
The lab will be the only facility of its kind in Idaho, and our medical, education and community partners have told us there is a great need for it.
Schools, law enforcement and emergency service agencies will use the A&P Lab for specialized training. Hospitals, clinics and medical organizations say the Lab will educate the kind of employees they want to hire - competent, highly trained and familiar with the newest advancements in their fields.
Community leaders see the A&P Lab and its research opportunities as a catalyst for economic development in the health care industry, one of the fastest growing sectors of the Idaho economy.
Our next step is securing $2 million in funding from the Idaho Legislature and $2 million in matching funds from private sources to construct the lab, which could open as early as fall 2014.
In January, Gov. Butch Otter noted Idaho ranks 49th nationally in the number of primary care physicians per capita. Many of our family doctors will retire in the coming years and we'll need more practitioners to replace them.
Solving the shortage of primary care providers and improving access to affordable care are difficult issues facing our state and community leaders.
But we can work together to find solutions. Construction of the Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory at Idaho State University-Meridian is a step in the right direction.
Dr. Arthur C. Vailas is the president of Idaho State University.