Sunday, November 18News That Matters

Proposed new medical school could help erase region's doctor shortage


A planned Poughkeepsie medical school and more graduate training opportunities at a nearby hospital chain could benefit other mid-Hudson medical students and reduce local doctor shortages, those opening the school say.

Last Month, Marist College and the Dutchess County hospital chain Health Quest announced plans to open and jointly run the Marist Health Quest School of Medicine.

In addition, Health Quest will create much-needed residencies or graduate training programs at its three hospitals in Dutchess and Putnam counties.

Pending municipal building approvals, construction, and academic accreditation, the $80 million, 100,000-square-foot medical school would be located at Health Quest’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center campus in Poughkeepsie.

The four-year medical school would open in July 2022, and employ 100 full-time workers plus part-time staff, while educating an annual class of 60 that would grow to 120 by 2028.

Health Quest’s commitment to create 25 fellowships and 225 residencies in nine specialties by 2020 will be among the regional benefits, amid a U.S. shortage of the graduate medical training opportunities required for licensure, said Glenn Loomis, Health Quest’s chief medical operations officer.

Medical school graduates must compete for the chance to complete three or more years of hands-on residency training, including working with patients under licensed doctors’ supervision.

Mid-Hudson natives and graduates of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, New York Medical College in Valhalla, and Quinnipiac University’s medical school will be given preference for the new residencies, Loomis said.

The residencies will include internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, anesthesia and orthopedics, Loomis said.

Doctors are more likely to practice in their native states, and 69 percent of those who completed both medical school and their residencies in the same state ended up staying, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Where did the doctor do his or her last training? Where was the doctor raised? Where was medical school? Each factor exponentially increases the likelihood a doctor will stay in the area,” said Janis Orlowski, the AAMC’s chief health care officer.

Filling doctor shortages

Poughkeepsie’s future medical school also could benefit mid-Hudson residents by collaborating with nearby medical schools like Touro, said Geoff Brackett, Marist’s executive vice president.

Working with Touro “makes perfect sense,” Brackett said.

Health Quest and Marist “are committed to establishing programs where our respective students and faculty can work together toward the common goal of excellence in health care for the Hudson Valley region.”

Loomis said the new medical school won’t just supply doctors for Health Quest facilities like Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel and Vassar Brothers.

“We’ll be putting out 60 to 70 doctors a year, and all of them couldn’t possibly absorb that many,” Loomis said. “That should give plenty of physicians to the folks in Orange, Ulster, Westchester, Columbia and other counties around us.”

Like much of the U.S., the mid-Hudson needs all the new doctors it can get.

Since the early 2000s, medical schools have increased admissions, but decades of faulty projections that America would have a glut of doctors led schools to keep admissions flat as the U.S. population grew.

All told, America is projected to experience a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030, the AAMC found.

Rural areas like Sullivan County are already underserved, particularly by primary care doctors. 

That’s because medical students often opt to become specialists and move to suburbs and cities for more earning power and a less hectic lifestyle.

New York needs another 1,220 additional primary care doctors by 2030 alone, according to a 2015 study by the Healthcare Association of New York State.

That year, New York had 93 federally designated areas lacking providers such as primary care doctors, dentists and mental health professionals.

Among them are parts of Orange and Sullivan counties, and Ulster County’s correctional facilities, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration found.

Collaboration, not competition

Doctor shortages are one of the reasons the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation consistently ranks Sullivan County the second-most unhealthy county in the state, behind only the Bronx.

“The medical school will provide a bigger farm team for local doctors,” said Ron Israelski, who heads Orange Regional Medical Center’s doctor training. 

Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties “are not going to get the majority, but we’ll get some, and some will work in underserved and neglected rural areas.”

America’s lack of residencies has made physician shortages more acute.

The federal government began funding most residencies in the 1960s to produce more physicians to serve Medicare recipients.

But Congress hasn’t lifted a 1997 federal spending cap on residencies that was imposed to balance the budget.

Last year, 43,157 applicants vied for 27,860 residencies.

Among them were graduates of America’s two main types of medical schools, allopathic and osteopathic, Canadian medical degree recipients, and U.S. citizens who graduated from medical school overseas, especially in the Caribbean, according to the AAMC.

The mid-Hudson will benefit most if the new medical schools’ operators share residencies and collaborate with Touro, said Kenneth Steier, Touro’s executive dean.

“If we’re able to work together to build new residency and clinical programs, it could be a positive,” Steier said.

“If we’re competing for the same number of limited residency programs and physicians to teach our students, it could be a negative.”

daxelrod@th-record.com

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