KU continues to work with WSU on idea for new medical center campus in Wichita, opens new rural health center in Salina

photo by: Journal-World File

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod is pictured in his office in Strong Hall on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.

The University of Kansas and Wichita State remain serious about building a new medical school campus in Wichita, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in brief remarks Tuesday.

Girod said the two universities have been talking about the potential project with Wichita community leaders and members of the Kansas Legislature.

“It has resonated well in that community and certainly has resonated well in the Legislature,” Girod said in a video message to the KU community on Tuesday.

Girod did not provide any concrete details, such as an estimated cost, size or location for the joint project. But in his video message, which focused on medical education at KU, Girod gave a few details about what is envisioned.

Girod said it would be a joint facility in Wichita that is “really centered on health care and health professions.”

“It would really be essentially a replacement campus for our School of Medicine in Wichita, which has a fairly old campus,” Girod said.

But in addition to hosting classes taught by KU medical school faculty, the facility also would be home to several programs taught by Wichita State University faculty. Girod said WSU has several health profession programs that are a bit “scattered” geographically in Wichita. The new center would allow students from both KU and WSU who are planning to become medical professionals to be located on the same campus. KU would continue to be the only institution that can offer Doctor of Medicine degrees, but Girod said WSU has programs in the areas of nursing, physician assistant programs, physical therapy and various other health professions that could locate on the campus.

KU has operated a medical school campus in Wichita since the early 1970s. The Wichita campus has a little more than 200 students enrolled this school year, compared with about 3,400 students enrolled at the main campus in Kansas City, Kansas.

Girod in his comments on Tuesday didn’t give any indication whether the new campus would be built to accommodate larger class sizes in the future. Talk of the new joint project, however, comes at the same time that a new medical school is opening in downtown Wichita. The Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine is expected to have its first class of students in the fall of this year, the Kansas Board of Regents was told last week.

The medical school, which doesn’t offer a Doctor of Medicine degree but rather a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, isn’t affiliated with a university. Instead, it is tied to the Kansas Health Science Center, a nonprofit that was formed to create the Wichita medical school. However, Kansas Health Science Center is an affiliate of TCS Education System, according to the group’s website. TCS is a Chicago-based nonprofit that is affiliated with several schools and colleges, including The Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Saybrook University, an in-person and online university based in California; and a California-based law school called The Colleges of Law.

The new medical school, which is renovating about 115,000 square feet of space in downtown Wichita, highlights in its marketing materials that Kansas has a shortage of doctors and medical professionals, particularly in rural areas.

That’s a top-of-mind issue for KU leaders as they seek to expand the presence of the KU Medical Center and the University of Kansas Health System. As part of those efforts, the KU Medical Center recently has opened the Kansas Center for Rural Health, which is headquartered in Salina on KU’s medical school campus in that central Kansas community.

“We see our mission of what can we do to help improve the health of rural Kansas through service, education, and research, and also through some health policy leadership,” Dr. Robert Moser, dean of the KU School of Medicine-Salina, said Tuesday as part of a video conversation with Girod.

Moser, who is stepping down from the Salina dean position to focus on serving as executive director of the new center, said past projects he’s worked on in rural Kansas demonstrated that the university could help create positive change.

He noted improvement in heart and stroke care in rural hospitals had occurred in recent years after the KU Medical Center undertook a multicounty project to promote specific standards of care for patients who were seen by smaller hospitals that often are an hour or more away from larger hospitals offering more specialized care.

Salina was chosen as the site for the new center, in part, because KU’s medical school campus there has had success in attracting students who want to practice medicine in smaller communities.

The campus graduates only about eight Doctor of Medicine students per year, but Moser said of the seven graduating classes since its founding, 80% of graduates are practicing in Kansas, and 45% are in rural Kansas, with the majority serving as much-needed primary care physicians.

Overall the Salina campus, including KU’s nursing program there, has about 80 students, Girod said. He said there may be some room to grow those numbers in the future.


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