The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine now under construction at Chaffee Crossing has been approved by a national accrediting body to be able to recruit students for its first class set to convene in the fall of 2017.
It’s a significant milestone that allows college administrators to begin hiring faculty, staff and taking other measures to prep the institution for its 2017 opening.
“We are very excited to begin the process of recruiting for a class of 150 students to start in August 2017. We will begin rapidly expanding the number of faculty and staff hired to meet the needs of the school,” Dr. Kenneth Heiles, dean and chief academic officer said in a statement.
Pre-accreditation by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation allows the college to recruit students immediately, with provisional accreditation status effective July 1.
Work began in February on the $32.4 million facility located in the Chaffee Crossing area. The school will be housed in a three story, 102,000-square-foot building, and a fully operational osteopathic college is expected to serve about 600 students. Initial planning estimated that the new college would employ around 92 (full-time equivalent jobs) with an average salary of $116,000 – not including adjunct professors and other part-time support.
Parker said Wednesday that work on the inside of the facility is almost complete, with work on parking lots and access roads moving as fast as the weather will allow.
Funding for the college and associated development comes from The Degen Foundation, a Fort Smith-based philanthropy created with some of the revenue from the 2009 sale of Sparks Health System to then Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates. As of July 2013, the Degen Foundation held $60.673 million. The college also has received a $14 million anonymous donation and has access to a $25 million low-interest loan.
“In March of 2013 the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation decided to ‘move the needle’ to help alleviate the shortage of physicians and to improve access to care. From that day forward we received incredible support from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, the City of Fort Smith, the EDA, the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, and a $14,000,000 anonymous gift,” noted Kyle Parker, president and CEO of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. “This allowed us to construct and equip one of the finest medical school facilities in the country. Today, we are no longer a ‘proposed’ school, we are now officially the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. This is truly an economic and cultural game changer for the region.”
Parker has said the college is needed because of a growing U.S. physician shortage. That shortage is quantified in a March 2015 study commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The report, conducted by IHS Inc., shows that by 2025 the physician shortage will range between 46,000 and 90,000.
Talking points provided by Parker include the following assertions.
• Arkansas has a critical need for more physicians. Arkansas ranks 46 out of 50 states in the number of active physicians per capita and 42 out of 50 states in the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 people (2015 State Physician Workforce Data Book of the Association of American Medical Colleges).
• Arkansas ranks 48 out of 50 states in its population’s health status (America’s Health Rankings, United Health Foundation). Low health indicators include obesity and number of adults who smoke. Arkansas has the highest adult obesity rate, second-highest rate of smoking, and fourth-highest rate of adult diabetes in the nation, according to a recent national report.
• The Commonwealth Fund Scorecard on State Health System Performance ranked Arkansas 44 out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) in 2015 for access and affordability of care; 47 out of 51 for prevention and treatment; and 51 out of 51 for equity.
Parker and the college also used the announcement to promote osteopathic medical training. Talking points provided by the college said osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest growing health care professions in the country.
Other items in the talking points included:
• Osteopathic physicians practice in all medical specialties, including primary care, surgery, and emergency medicine;
• 56% of osteopathic physicians practice in the primary care disciplines of family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, and pediatrics;
• One in four medical students in the United States is enrolled in a college of Osteopathic Medicine;
• Osteopathic medical school enrollment has grown approximately 7% each year since 2007;
• 40% of practicing DOs are women. In contrast, 33% of all practicing physicians (DOs and MD combined) are female; and
• 40% of all physicians that are located in medically underserved areas or who treat medically underserved populations are osteopathic physicians.