We like the idea of a medical school that could produce a stream of graduates who, after residencies, might address a regional shortage of doctors in Idaho and neighboring states.
But for Gov. Butch Otter to just announce one day, in the middle of the 2016 Legislature, that the state of Idaho had entered into an agreement for a private, for-profit Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine to associate with Idaho State University on its Meridian campus — that scores about a minus-5 on the transparency scale.
It was not a good start for such an immense undertaking: starting a medical school that would produce 150 graduates per year beginning in 2022. This is an institution that is going to have to rely on broad medical community buy-in and that faces steep challenges and a host of unanswered questions:
▪ With already fierce competition for only 40 existing residencies for Idaho medical students who have completed school at places such as the University of Washington through WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho), where will these 150 graduates find residencies and, down the road, jobs? It seems like a leap of faith more than a business plan to count on an increased number of residencies — which do not come cheaply, easily or overnight.
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▪ Why not get the plan in place to establish new residencies first and then enter into an agreement with a medical school?
▪ What exactly went wrong late last year between The Burrell Group (the New Mexico-based financial backers of ICOM) and Montana State University to build a strikingly similar medical school in Bozeman? A Billings Gazette story in December quoted an email from MSU President Waded Cruzado’s office indicating pushback from Montana physicians wary of the plan. That was followed by an announcement that the school and Burrell were parting ways.
ICOM’s newly named Dean, Dr. Robert Hasty — who has great credentials and who was recruited from a successful North Carolina osteopathic school — said during a visit with the Statesman’s editorial board this week that he has experience developing residencies and will replicate that here. He said the breakdown of negotiations in Montana were largely due to the MSU president’s “overestimation” of support from medical stakeholders in the state.
Though Idaho officials had discussions with many stakeholders here, The Associated Press reported that the Idaho Medical Association did not learn of the proposal until just hours before Otter’s announcement last month.
Only time will tell whether the promise of a new medical school in Idaho — which Hasty predicts would result in 50 percent of its 150 graduates eventually locating and practicing in the Gem State — will come to fruition.
One of our other concerns is that we have seen some sour results following private-public partnerships that Idaho developed without full scrutiny in the past. Corrections and broadband contracts come to mind. Idaho doesn’t have the best track record.
While the Idaho State Board of Education and the Idaho Hospital Association have given their blessing to the $105 million privately funded school (it will receive a $4 million tax reimbursement incentive over 10 years), some well-respected physicians and medical educators in the state have serious concerns about the arrangement. They worry about the school’s impact on existing paths that produce doctors and other medical personnel for Idaho. You can read about some of the pros and cons in four columns in the Opinion section today.
We are all for solutions that will bring more doctors to Idaho, and we wish ICOM the best. But going forward we hope school leaders and Idaho officials will include more robust public involvement and debate before the project progresses.
In the creation of something as profound as a state’s only medical school, there’s only one chance to make a first impression.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.