Health Care

KU requests additional funds to double medical school class size in Wichita

The University of Kansas is requesting an additional $4.5million in state funding to double the class size of the school of medicine in Wichita and to fund physician faculty.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little made the request Wednesday before the Board of Regents in Topeka.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers cut nearly $4million from KU’s budget, part of its decision to cut funding at virtually all state universities.

In April, Gray-Little told the regents that the impending cuts to higher education could force KU to eliminate its medical school in Salina and reduce the one in Wichita to a two-year program.

But Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center, said those comments were made in response to a proposal being considered by the Kansas House at that time. He said some House members were proposing greater cuts than what actually occurred.

Now, he says, KU does not plan to cut the Salina program and can maintain it with current funds.

Despite the recent cuts, Girod said KU is hopeful that it will receive the funding because it is for a specific purpose.

The process would involve the presentation to the regents and then to the governor to get the funding in his budget, Girod said. They made a similar request last year that did not make it into the governor’s budget.

But the state legislature really holds the purse strings.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said in a statement: “I’m glad the University of Kansas is looking to stay ahead of the increased demand for physicians in Kansas. Our budget committee will examine the proposal in the next legislative session to ensure that it best meets the needs of the students and spends taxpayer dollars wisely before making a recommendation to include it in the state budget.”

If approved, the class expansion could be in place by 2016 or 2017, Girod said.

The Wichita campus had a baseline allocation of $14.9million in general use funds in fiscal year 2013, according to the regents meeting agenda. The Wichita campus budget was decreased by about $500,000 for fiscal year 2014.

The additional funding requested Wednesday would expand the Wichita campus to 56 first- and second-year students.

“We’re obviously excited by the opportunity to increase our capacity to provide doctors for Kansas,” said Denice Bruce, director of public affairs for KU School of Medicine-Wichita.

The Wichita campus opened in 1971 to provide clinical training for third- and fourth-year medical students. The school also facilitates clinical trials and research.

In 2011, the program expanded to a full four-year campus in an effort to alleviate a shortage of physicians in the state. That expansion was completed without additional state funding.

According to the agenda, overall budgets at both the Wichita and Salina campuses will still be reduced, and deans at both campuses are determining how to absorb those cuts without affecting enrollment.

Faculty funding

Some of the additional funding requested Wednesday would go toward faculty physicians at the university.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita has more than 900 volunteer faculty, Bruce said, and it would not anticipate a large number of new faculty hires as a result of the potential funding increase or expanded class size.

“As physicians face more pressure to increase the efficiency of their practices, it has become financially untenable to train medical students while also trying to treat as many patients as possible,” according to the regents meeting agenda.

“Volunteer faculty who are now (or will be) employed by health systems are expected to begin receiving compensation for their teaching efforts ... it is anticipated that volunteer faculty will begin to require stipends for providing clinical teaching,” the agenda said.

If KU increases class sizes, it can’t ask more of volunteer faculty solely on goodwill, Girod said.

“As more and more physicians are working in health systems, they have less flexibility with time and the margins are tighter in health systems,” he said.

Although Girod said KU hasn’t faced the issue of health systems pressuring the schools for more compensation for clinical faculty, he said it has heard of it happening across the country and in the Kansas City area among other medical teaching schools. It has not had specific conversations about the issue with Wichita area health systems, he said.

“It’s surfacing on all fronts of teaching,” he said. “They’re taking time away from their usual jobs and there are additional financial pressures.”