As a Family Physician practicing in Hailey since 1996, I have been involved in the training of medical students, residents and other learners my entire career. Twenty years of experience have given me intimate knowledge of the significant complexities involved in the education of medical students. The Burrell Group investment company has sold the concept of a large for-profit osteopathic school as the solution to Idaho’s physician shortage. For multiple reasons, I doubt this proposal is adequate to meet those challenges.
A class size of 150 students per year far exceeds the number of qualified medical school applicants from the state of Idaho. In 2015, a total of 91 Idaho citizens matriculated at U.S. medical schools. To fill the 150 seats necessary for Burrell to turn a profit, the proposed school would need to both lower the admission standards and take many non-Idaho applicants.
This investment company, with minimal experience in educating physicians, likely would not be able to attract quality faculty or provide essential infrastructure for students. More critically, clinical rotations are in high demand, difficult to develop and maintain, and require significant support and infrastructure. Having served as a teaching and practicing physician for the past 20 years, I understand the intense commitment this entails, both in time and impact on productivity. Currently, the paucity of providers able to undertake such a commitment limits availability of such clinical opportunities. It is fantastical to think that the proposed school will be able to secure clerkships for hundreds of medical students.
Graduating medical students must complete a residency in their chosen specialty in order to become licensed to practice. Competition for residency slots is quite fierce, and typically well qualified applicants from reputable medical schools are those most likely to match to quality residency programs. Idaho currently has 41 residency slots per year. Given the degree competition for those slots, any hope that a substantial number of graduates from the proposed for profit school will match these slots is wishful thinking. Sadly, this will lead to graduates attending residencies of dubious quality, or worse yet, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree which they cannot utilize.
I am very disappointed that this proposal was made without transparency or input from stakeholders, such as the Idaho Medical Association. If this plan is so beneficial for Idaho, why were those involved required to sign confidentiality agreements, rather than having deliberations open to public comment? Likely because Idahoans would have easily seen through this boondoggle, as the citizens of the state of Montana have recently done, and soundly rejected Burrell’s proposals. Finally, this proposal flies in the face of the Idaho State Board of Education’s own recommendation to prioritize residency development as their first priority.
I ask Idahoans to demand a thoughtful strategy to increase the physician workforce in Idaho, and that this proposed debacle is tabled until a more thorough evaluation of the impacts can be undertaken.
Frank M. Batcha MD is a Hailey physician.