Photo by Andy Heidt / MTSU News
MTSU partnered with Meharry Medical College on Thursday to develop an accelerated track for students to graduate as physicians to better serve rural parts of the state.
MTSU President Sidney McPhee and Meharry Medical College President James Hildreth met at the State Capitol for the signing ceremony, which was facilitated by state representatives.
The partnership was aided by MTSU alumnus and State Sen. Bill Ketron and Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. They involved MTSU in the partnership after Hildreth first had the idea for the program.
According to a recent press release, the schools will develop a “three-plus-three-year program” that will allow MTSU students to go on to Meharry for medical training. Graduates will receive degrees from both schools.
Ketron said this may be the first program of its kind in the United States.
“When I mention this partnership to people, it becomes a ‘wow’ moment, because it is such a game changer,” he said in the press release.
Hildreth commented on the overall health status of Tennessee, saying that it is among the worst in the country. In a 2016 study by the United Health Foundation, Tennessee was ranked 44 out of 50 for overall health outcomes. He said that part of the problem is that there are not enough doctors to take care of its population.
According to Krause, THEC was “particularly excited about the possibility for graduates of this joint program to serve as health care providers in our most needy areas.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s website, a majority of Tennessee counties are designated as federal health professional shortage areas. These areas are divided by income-based access and geographic access to primary care physicians.
Out of Tennessee’s 95 counties, 14 have geographically-based primary care shortages. These are the areas that graduates from the partnership program will be encouraged to serve.
“It is imperative to increase the number of primary care physicians in the state and to incentivize them to practice in underserved areas if Tennessee is to improve the overall health of its citizens,” Hildreth said in the press release.
McPhee said that the six-year pathway developed between the schools will help produce more qualified physicians to serve the state.
MTSU Vice President for Marketing and Communications Andrew Oppmann said that MTSU hopes to enroll the first students in the fast track program by the Fall of 2018. He said that the university will accept 20 to 25 candidates each academic year for the highly selective degree.
While many of the details of the partnership are still in development, Oppmann said that graduates will likely earn a pre-professional degree from the College of Basic and Applied Sciences at MTSU.
“We’re inventing something that has never been invented before,” Oppmann said.
He said that although the schools have shortened the time it will take to earn an M.D., they cannot cut any of the training that students will need to know as physicians.
Deciding how to organize traditional medical training into a six-year program will be a large part of discussions between the institutions in the coming weeks and months, according to Oppmann.
“This unique collaboration between a private medical college and a major public comprehensive university is just the right catalyst to spark true change for the benefit of the people of the great state of Tennessee,” McPhee said in the press release.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said, “This will benefit the entire state. It is innovative, and I applaud the leadership here today for working on this endeavor for quite some time.”
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