URBANA — A proposed engineering-based college of medicine could help recruit top doctors to Champaign-Urbana and create a “physician of the future” who is more attuned to patient care, a Carle development official says.
Stephanie Beever, senior vice president for system strategic development, said Carle has just begun to review the proposal from a consulting firm to create a new college of medicine to replace the University of Illinois’ regional medical school at Urbana. But she said Carle readily agreed to partner on the UI feasibility study because it was already looking for opportunities to bolster physician recruitment and high-tech health-care delivery, she said.
“We’re interested in making sure Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding community are served both now and into the future by physician services,” she said.
Across the country, health professionals are exploring how to pull together the wealth of patient information and other data now available to make better decisions on how to treat patients, she said. The new UI model envisions a curriculum that would train doctors in critical thinking and patient-centered care, and give them access to the next generation of data-mining tools, imaging, genomics and robotics on campus.
“By partnering the engineering school with the medical school, right up at the front, where the health-care professional is being trained, we hope it’s going to create the physician of the future who is very innovative, very thoughtful and better able to focus on our patients,” Beever said.
The UI isn’t the only institution exploring those kinds of links, said Dr. Steven Wartman, president and CEO of the Association of Academic Health Centers in Washington, D.C. Many of the group’s members are embedded in universities with strong computer science or engineering departments and are forging new alliances, he said.
“I think people are looking for new and exciting ways to usher in a new era of health care,” Wartman said. “We’re talking about computers, we’re talking about artificial intelligence. There’s sort of a confluence of scientific forces that I think are beginning to make us think differently about what medicine might look like in the future.”
Someday soon, or perhaps already, you may have sophisticated devices embedded inside your body that transmit vital medical information “with tens of thousands of data points that need to be analyzed and understood,” he said.
Medical staff will need new ways to analyze that mega-data, and that will require “collaborative and creative models, whether they are at brand-new medical schools or whether they are at established medical schools.”
Carle and the UI have partnered for years to train physicians and do research at Urbana’s medical school, run by the UI College of Medicine in Chicago. But that arrangement poses challenges, with two separate organizations, one of them headquartered two hours away.
“It has been very positive. There are, however, some complexities,” Beever said. “We see this as a continuum, a step of how to partner together more effectively.”
Under the new model, Carle and the Urbana campus would create a new public-private entity to run an independent medical college. It’s too early to say what that might look like or how it will be structured, Beever said. Consultants recommended students receive a degree from the UI’s Urbana campus, but the school itself would be governed by the UI and Carle. Its board of directors should include health care, education, civic, business and industry leaders from Champaign-Urbana, as well as the vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the UI Chicago College of Medicine, plus the dean of an “aspirational peer” medical school and someone from the Chicago business community, the report said.
Medical schools have all kinds of iterations — some public, some private, some a blend of those two — said UI Trustee Tim Koritz, a Rockford anesthesiologist.
Medical schools need a clinical partner to expose students to all fields of medicine during their training — internal medicine, surgery, neurology, cardiology, radiology and more, Koritz said. Carle, with its 345-bed hospital and 380-member physician practice, could fill that role, he said. And some students could go “off-campus” if they’re interested in specific rotations in more specialized areas, he said.
Consultants deliberately proposed a small college — totaling 200 students (50 per year) when fully developed — to ensure both Carle and the UI had the faculty and infrastructure to support it, Beever said.
“We want to make sure that the medical students trained in this venue get the highest caliber of training possible. To have lots and lots of people in this kind of program would be challenging,” Beever said.
The proposal is built on private support, and no state funding, requiring $100 million in start-up costs and a $200 million endowment. Beever wasn’t sure what kind of investment Carle might have to make.
“This is so early,” she said. “We are not to the point of digging into the funds yet.”
The consultants’ report notes that no new U.S. medical schools opened during the 1980s and ’90s, but a concern over physician shortages prompted the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2006 to call for a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment. Since then, 15 new medical schools have been established — four between an existing university and a major health system — and more are in development, the report said.
“Some of them seem to be doing quite well. This is not bucking a trend,” Wartman said. But he added, “I don’t think it’s an easy proposition.”
Federal support for medical schools has been declining in recent years. Carle estimates it spent about $10.5 million in 2013 training students and residents, but only expects to receive about $7.4 million in reimbursements from the federal government.
Carle’s long-term goal is to ensure that the community has access to top physicians and quality health care, particularly specialty services, in a changing health-care market, said Beever, who helps recruit doctors to Carle.
The regional medical school is already an important recruitment tool for physicians, Beever said, and the proposed new model would be an even bigger draw.
It could also be a “viable feeder” of physicians for the community by retaining some of the students who train here, she said. Once they see the high level of health care, the university’s academic firepower and research opportunities they might decide to stay once they complete their training, she said.
A look at the UI’s Urbana medical school and how it partners with Carle:
— Operates as a regional campus of the UI College of Medicine in Chicago.
— 122 students earn a medical degree from UI Chicago and a doctorate, law degree or MBA from Urbana.
— 165 students are in the traditional medical school path; they will earn an M.D. from UI Chicago.
— 18 full-time faculty, five part-time basic sciences faculty, 46 part-time clinical faculty (physicians).
— Carle is the school’s primary teaching site, with 100 UI students at any given time training under Carle physicians.
— Carle and the UI operate a joint internal medicine residency program with room for up to 50 residents.
— Carle operates three residency programs (about 32 residents combined).
UI science researchers work with Carle physicians. For example:
— Three Carle neurosurgeons have research appointments at the UI, working on medical imaging, “cooling helmets” and traumatic brain injury.
Sources: University of Illinois, Carle