Expansion just what doctor ordered

Even though it has been training doctors for 35 years, the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita has been an underappreciated asset. But that could change as the school becomes a four-year program and has an even larger impact on the local economy and our state's health care system.

The school is in the process of expanding its medical program from training only third- and fourth-year students to also training first- and second-year students. It has spent the past year developing its curriculum, and it already has commitments for half of the $5 million it needs to raise to help fund the expanded program.

An accreditation team recently completed a campus evaluation trip. If the governing body approves the program expansion in October, as expected, the new students will begin next August.

The school will start small, with only eight first-year students initially. But it plans to grow to 50 first-year students in four years, and have 250 first- through fourth-year students by 2015.

That expansion would have a significant local economic impact. The current two-year program has about a $50 million economic impact, according to H. David Wilson, the school's dean. He expects the four-year program and new KU School of Pharmacy to triple that impact.

But more important is the impact the school can have on health care.

The KU School of Medicine-Wichita is the primary provider of doctors for rural Kansas. Remarkably, the school's graduates serve in 102 of the state's 105 counties. More students could result in more physicians in underserved counties.

The school supplies most of Wichita's doctors, too. Half of the doctors in Sedgwick County are KUMC-Wichita graduates, according to Wilson.

And because medical students help provide care for uninsured and underinsured residents, an expanded program should be able to help more needy people.

The school is also smartly partnering with Wichita State University, the KU School of Pharmacy and possibly Newman University to share facilities and faculty. There's no need to duplicate resources.

Wilson has high expectations for the four-year program and expects it to be on an equal footing with the KU School of Medicine campus in Kansas City, Kan.

The KUMC-Wichita expansion was unanimously endorsed by the Kansas Board of Regents. And it has been enthusiastically supported by the local medical community.

"People want to see this happen in this town," Wilson told The Eagle editorial board.

That's because they know it will be great for Wichita and the state.