Health Care

Wichita med school set to expand

The number of physicians trained each year in Wichita is on track to increase, beginning in August 2011.

The aim is to help meet the need for physicians in Kansas, especially in light of national health care reform and a work force that is aging.

Representatives of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education will visit the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita in mid-July to make sure it's ready to become a four-year campus. Approval could come in October.

The first class of eight would be admitted in 2011. Dean H. David Wilson said, "If that goes well, and I'm convinced that it will," a class of 28 would be admitted in each of the next two years. Class size would be expanded to 50 in 2014.

The medical school in Wichita now offers only the third and fourth years of medical school, with about 55 students in each class. Students attend the first two years in Kansas City.

Wichita would continue to take some students from Kansas City for the final two years of medical school, Wilson said, for a total of 75 students per class.

A four-year KU medical school campus also is in the works in Salina. It would take eight students each year, also beginning in August 2011, according to William Cathcart-Rake, a physician who is director of that program.

The Kansas Board of Regents is to get an informational update on both programs at its meeting in Topeka today; no action is scheduled.

Expanding to a four-year campus would have a number of benefits, Wilson said:

* Kansas has a physician-to-patient ratio lower than the national average in five of its six regions. Adding students would help change that.

* The physician work force is aging. "Kansas is going to need some more doctors pretty quickly," Wilson said, and it takes a minimum of seven years — four years of medical school and at least three years of residency — to produce them.

* Physicians trained in Kansas are more likely to stay in Kansas. Half of the physicians in Sedgwick County graduated from medical school here or did their residencies here.

* Expanding the program, plus the addition of a KU School of Pharmacy campus here, means more "taxpaying, law-abiding citizens" who are more likely to buy houses than to rent apartments.

* As a two-year program, the medical school already has a $50 million annual impact on Sedgwick County. That would increase.

The program in Salina will target students who are interested in practicing in rural Kansas. Some students already spend the last 18 months of medical school in Salina and rural areas, Cathcart-Rake said, and the Smoky Hill residency program there prepares graduates for rural practices.

In Salina and in Wichita, students will get much of their basic science course work via interactive video or podcast.

The Salina program will be housed in what used to be the Asbury School of Nursing.

The Wichita campus has expansion work under way to house the pharmacy program. Wilson said the project was coming in under budget, so the Board of Regents authorized finishing off space that was going to be left as a shell. It will house the expanded program.

Wilson said he wants to raise at least $600,000 to support the first year of the expanded program; eventually he expects the state to take on the cost.