Train­ing docs just part of job at ASU med school

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JEAN­NIE ROBERTS

As stu­dents wove through the halls of the os­teo­pathic med­i­cal school on the Jones­boro cam­pus of Arkansas State Univer­sity re­cently, hun­dreds of dressed-up hope­fuls chat­ted ner­vously as they waited their turn to in­ter­view with the school’s ad­mis­sion com­mit­tee.

Each year, since the state’s first os­teo­pathic med­i­cal school opened in the fall of 2016, the school sifts thou­sands of ap­pli­cants from around the state and na­tion for the 125 slots that open each fall. Their goal is en­try into the New York In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Col­lege of Os­teo­pathic Medicine cam­pus in Jones­boro.

In an of­fice away from the bus­tle, Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the col­lege at ASU, pointed out­side his door to­ward the school’s au­di­to­rium.

“We’re try­ing to find out, ‘Is this some­body who might be a good fit for our mis­sion and our vi­sion for what health care should look like?’” Speights said in an in­ter­view a few weeks ago. “His­tor­i­cally, it’s stu­dents from the back­ground that we’re

try­ing to ad­dress.”

Nearly half of the school’s more than 350 stu­dents come from towns of less than 50,000 peo­ple or from im­pov­er­ished ur­ban ar­eas with high rates of free- and re­duced-price lunch pro­grams in their schools. Many are their fam­i­lies’ first col­lege grad­u­ates.

“The vast num­ber of them have such en­dur­ing sto­ries of per­sonal growth and the chal­lenges and ob­sta­cles they over­came to get here,” Speights said. “I think, just by our mis­sion and by who we are, we at­tract stu­dents with, re­ally, the heart for medicine and the heart for health care and heal­ing. We’re very proud of that.”


That ex­pe­ri­ence, that em­pa­thy for the un­der­served, can­not be taught, Speights said.

“The stu­dent needs to come with that,” Speights said. “We can teach them ev­ery­thing about how to cure and man­age dis­ease, but we would like for them to have the ser­vant mind­set and the ser­vant lead­er­ship as­pect al­ready in­grained.”

The school’s cur­ricu­lum is specif­i­cally de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate and grow that mind­set and to re­in­force the mis­sion of os­teo­pathic medicine to treat the whole per­son in mind, body and spirit, Speights said.

The dif­fer­ence is mostly philo­soph­i­cal be­tween doc­tors of os­teo­pathic medicine and doc­tors of medicine.. Both are sim­i­larly ed­u­cated and cer­ti­fied, but doc­tors of os­teo­pathic medicine re­ceive spe­cial train­ing in the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem and com­ple­ment tra­di­tional medicine with an em­pha­sis on pa­tients’ life­styles, while doc­tors of medicine fo­cus on reme­dies such as drugs or surgery to treat symp­toms.

In the fall of 2018, more than 100 of the school’s thirdyear stu­dents went out into the un­der­served ar­eas of the state and re­gion — mainly the Delta — to spend the next two years work­ing side-by­side with ru­ral physi­cians at pri­vate prac­tices as well as hos­pi­tals. They were the first class from the school to do so.

The school has a part­ner­ship with about 150 fa­cil­i­ties, said Casey Pearce, spokesman for the Jones­boro cam­pus of the Os­teo­pathic Medicine Col­lege.

“Their fourth year also con­sists of clin­i­cal ro­ta­tions, some of which will be done in the same city they were in for their third year,” Pearce said. “They have an op­por­tu­nity to choose elec­tive ro­ta­tions based on their pre­ferred spe­cialty.”


Speights said the clin­i­cal ro­ta­tions also heighten the chances those stu­dents will re­turn to the same area to prac­tice af­ter they com­plete med­i­cal school and res­i­den­cies.

“Some of those stu­dents are in those ar­eas for two years. It’s not just a onemonth ro­ta­tion,” Speights said. “Some of them are ac­tu­ally do­ing the bulk of their med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, in terms of the clin­i­cal as­pect, in those ar­eas. And that’s a phe­nom­e­nal ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Third-year med­i­cal stu­dent Derika Mays echoed that sen­ti­ment. Mays was born and raised in Osce­ola, a Mis­sis­sippi County town in the Arkansas Delta with a pop­u­la­tion just un­der 8,000.

Mar­ried with a 5-year-old daugh­ter, Mays is liv­ing in Jones­boro while she fin­ishes her ed­u­ca­tion, but is adamant she will re­turn to prac­tice medicine in her home­town.

“There are not a lot of physi­cians there,” Mays said.

Even more so, she said, there are no spe­cial­ists close to the area, caus­ing pa­tients to drive hours for ap­point­ments with doc­tors such as nephrol­o­gists or or­tho­pe­dists.

“It would be great if we could open more com­mu­nity health cen­ters in these lo­ca­tions,” Mays said.

Ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Col­leges, Arkansas ranks 46th in the na­tion when it comes to physi­cians per capita, with 203 physi­cians per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion. The state ranks 36th in the na­tion in the num­ber of pri­mary care physi­cians at 79.5 doc­tors per 100,000 peo­ple.

About 64 per­cent of the nearly 350 stu­dents of the Jones­boro os­teo­pathic med­i­cal cam­pus hail from Arkansas towns or bordering states that are con­sid­ered part of the Mis­sis­sippi Delta, Pearce said.

“Like in Derika’s case — a stu­dent from Osce­ola is much more likely to prac­tice in a place like Osce­ola than a stu­dent from Dal­las is,” Pearce said.

Speights, who went to med­i­cal school in Kansas City, Mo., af­ter serv­ing as a paramedic on an am­bu­lance route in Arkadel­phia, said the school isn’t wait­ing un­til the stu­dents grad­u­ate to make an im­pact on the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.

“I can be the best doc­tor there is. I could have the pa­tient sit­ting in front of me and I can ex­plain to them why it’s im­por­tant for them to take this med­i­ca­tion for their blood pres­sure and go through all the de­tails. But if they get up and walk out the door and never fill that pre­scrip­tion, I’m wast­ing my time and the pa­tient’s wasted theirs,” Speights said. “That goes back to health ed­u­ca­tion and that’s some­thing our stu­dents can start do­ing right from the be­gin­ning.”

This spring, stu­dents will staff the “Delta Care-a-van,” which was ob­tained through a U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Delta Health­care Ser­vices grant. The mo­bile med­i­cal unit will dis­pense health screen­ings, health ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tive care.

“We ex­pect them to speak to lo­cal civics groups, the Ro­tary Club, the Li­ons Club, talk­ing about vac­ci­na­tions, or im­mu­niza­tions or talk­ing about the obe­sity rate in Arkansas or den­tal care,” Speights said. “What­ever it may be, we ex­pect our stu­dents to be pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion.”

The med­i­cal school is also work­ing to in­crease the state’s res­i­dency op­por­tu­ni­ties — the post­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion re­quired to ob­tain li­censes. Speights helped to start an in­ter­nal res­i­dency pro­gram at St. Bernards Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Jones­boro as well as at other hos­pi­tals and fa­cil­i­ties in the state.

There has long been a short­age of res­i­dency spots, both for med­i­cal and os­teo­pathic doc­tors, in the na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Res­i­dent Match­ing Pro­gram, about 44,000 doc­tors vie for just 33,000 open res­i­dency slots each year.

Cur­rently, the os­teo­pathic res­i­den­cies match pro­gram is sep­a­rate from those of tra­di­tional med­i­cal schools — in­clud­ing the state’s only such school, the Univer­sity of Arkansas for Med­i­cal Sciences. By 2020, a sin­gle ac­cred­i­ta­tion sys­tem will be formed when the Amer­i­can Os­teo­pathic As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges of Os­teo­pathic Medicine merge with the med­i­cal doc­tors’ pro­gram, the Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Coun­cil for Grad­u­ate Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion.

“We are in­ti­mately in­volved with the ex­pan­sion of res­i­dency pro­grams in the state, which is, again, an­other in­gre­di­ent in the recipe to try to fill the work­force needs in Arkansas,” Speights said.

In the fu­ture, Speights said, the school hopes to cre­ate more pipe­line pro­grams to guide stu­dents in the K-12 school sys­tem to­wards med­i­cal ca­reers. The school spon­sors a four-day overnight camp for high school stu­dents to learn about com­mu­nity health care. The school’s med­i­cal stu­dents act as camp coun­selors.

Speights also en­vi­sions the third-year stu­dents reach­ing out to schools in the com­mu­ni­ties they serve to talk about pre­ven­tion, such as the im­por­tance of hand­wash­ing or of get­ting the flu vac­cine.

“All of these things, that cer­tainly we in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion take for granted as com­mon knowl­edge, we should be pass­ing on. And our stu­dents don’t have to be grad­u­ates to do that,” Speights said. “We feel that grad­u­at­ing ex­cel­lent physi­cians is only one part of our re­spon­si­bil­ity as a med­i­cal school.”

“The vast num­ber of them have such en­dur­ing sto­ries of per­sonal growth and the chal­lenges and ob­sta­cles they over­came to get here.” — Dr. Shane Speights

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