Osteopathic medical school could attract BYU pre-med students

The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in South Carolina has a similar concept to what the proposed Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine would look like in Provo. Wasatch Educational announced it wants to build a medical school in Provo, has presented a proposal to Provo City and are in the pre-accreditation stage. (A. Cory Maloy)

A small section of the East Bay golf course in Provo, Utah, could house an osteopathic medical school a few years from now.

Wasatch Educational, the parent company to Rocky Mountain University, announced its intent on Nov. 21 to build an osteopathic medical school in Provo. The company submitted a proposal for consideration by Provo City Council and is in the beginning stages of applying for accreditation.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, osteophathic medicine is a distinct form of medical practice in the United States that provides all the benefits of modern medicine as well as the use of osteopathic manipulative techniques and holistic care. More than 20 percent of U.S. medical students are currently training to be osteopathic physicians.

Wasatch Educational Vice President Richard Nielsen said the school would be an option for many BYU students looking for a medical school experience.

Nielsen said Wasatch Educational has had its eyes on Provo for the location of the school since 2012 when it started the campaign, despite opportunities to build outside of Provo.

“This community has a great culture of service. There’s an amazing quality of life that’s here in Provo. It’s because of the good economy, the amazing environment that we live in, the entrepreneurial spirit that’s here, low crime rates, great neighbors, (an) educated workforce and really what it comes down to (is) the people,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said after the proposed medical school is built and accredited they hope to work with BYU and UVU on research to develop articulation agreements to work together with the universities. Faculty and students could benefit from opportunities at the medical school like internships, according to Nielsen.

The proposed medical school, the Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine, is named after the late Ray and Tye Noorda. Ray Noorda was the CEO of Novell, a legacy computer networking business recently bought by Micro Focus, founded in Provo. The Ray and Tye Noorda foundation donated $50 million to this proposed medical school.

The proposal is currently in applicant status with the accreditation commission, which means they are working towards becoming compliant with set standards. Meeting these standards would lead to full accreditation following the graduation of the first class, according to Nielsen.

“It’s not a matter of getting accredited. It’s a matter of continuing to perform so that you can reaffirm your accreditation,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said they anticipate many of the students who would be enrolled in the proposed medical school being from BYU and UVU.

According to David Kaiser, a pre-health advisor in BYU’s Pre Professional Advisement Center, there are usually about 500 students from BYU who apply for medical school each year, but only about two-thirds of them are accepted.

There is a doctor shortage in the United States right now, but it is also getting harder to get into medical school, according to BYU pre-med student Hiva Lee. He said the perception is there are enough doctors in Utah, but another medical school in Utah could still help nationally.

However, Kaiser said adding medical schools does not do much to help the physician shortage. There are a certain number of spots set up for residencies in the country, and that is where the bottleneck is, according to Kaiser.

Lee said the intensity of classes at BYU and the pre-med resources have helped him feel prepared, although he is still worried about being accepted.

“I think (a medical school in Provo) will be a good option. It’ll be good for families as well. I think it’ll really be important for students to not just go there just because it’s in Provo, but to apply to places that they think are a good match for them,” Lee said.

Lee said one of the main things he has considered while considering where to apply for medical school is residencies.

“Residency and matching is obviously crucial because you want to go to a medical school that has a proven track record of placing students where they want to go. With more schools we’re going to have to make sure we secure more residency positions so that way those students don’t graduate and are left with nothing to do, but I think that’ll come with time,” Lee said.

Kaiser said he doesn’t know where there will be space for all the students at the proposed medical school because there aren’t enough teaching spots in Utah Valley clinics for that many students to get experience or have residencies. However, he also said a medical school in Provo would benefit pre-med students wanting to remain local.

“There’s a lot of kids that love (Provo). It’s a great place, the cost of living is way less than a lot of other places. (Students) don’t have to move, particularly if they’re married and they have a spouse that’s still in school, so there’s certainly things that would be attractive in having a medical school here,” Kaiser said.

On Dec. 5, the Provo City Council discussed the proposed medical school. Many people came with concerns about the impact of the medical school on the golfers, specifically youth golf programs, the environment and the city.

After another open house on Jan. 4, the council passed a resolution on Jan. 9 that places the 22.3 acres of property on the surplus property list and allows the mayor to negotiate the details of the proposed sale to Wasatch Educational, subject to final approval by the council.

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