A proposed osteopathic medical school in Wisconsin has been in the making for roughly five years. After a couple of false starts, the school has found a site and secured commitment and an incentive payment from the municipality of Jefferson, Wis.
The Wisconsin College of Osteopathic Medicine (WCOM) would open on the former main campus of St. Coletta of Wisconsin, now known as Sanctuary Ridge. WCOM intends to construct a new facility and renovate three existing buildings on the historic site.
“We have a $500,000 grant from the city of Jefferson, which will allow us to complete our feasibility study and acquire additional financing,” says Gregg S. Silberg, DO, WCOM’s president and CEO. The college must submit a feasibility study and undergo a site inspection before it can be granted pre-accreditation status by the AOA Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). If WCOM clears this hurdle and receives COCA’s provisional accreditation next year, Dr. Silberg expects the school will open in fall 2015.
Located within 40 miles of both Milwaukee and Madison, Jefferson is a rural town of nearly 8,000 people. The school’s proximity to popular areas would help draw students and faculty, says Dr. Silberg, who is also the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons.
If the current plan comes to fruition, WCOM would be an independent private college. The school has been forging partnerships with a number of hospitals in the state to train students and future graduates and underwrite some of the financing. It has also been soliciting donations and grants from foundations, government entities and private sources. The school needs to raise more than $80 million to cover construction costs, a reserve fund and other startup expenses.
“Our biggest challenge has been the financing, but we’re optimistic we will get the money to start the school,” says Jerry N. Yee, DO, the president of the Wisconsin association.
Last year, Aspirus Health System pulled out of a much-publicized plan to establish WCOM in Wausau, Wis. Aspirus, which is based in Wausau, and several other Wisconsin health systems would have owned the college. The primary financial supporter, Aspirus stated that it was backing out of the deal because of problems that might arise from having competing health systems own a medical school. Further complicating WCOM’s plight, the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee announced that it planned to open two extension campuses in the state in 2015.
With 253 active physicians per 100,000 people, Wisconsin ranks 23rd among U.S. states in physician density, according to the Association of American Medical College’s 2011 State Physician Workforce Data Book.
Wisconsin needs 850 to 900 new physicians per year, a demand that can’t be met by the Medical College of Wisconsin and the state’s other medical school in Madison. In 2011, the Wisconsin Hospital Association projected that the state will need an additional 100 physicians per year throughout the next two decades.
Even if the Medical College of Wisconsin expands as planned, the state’s existing medical schools will not be able to meet the increasing demand for physicians, Dr. Silberg says. He notes that Wisconsin annually brings in more than 700 new physicians from outside of the state, including international medical graduates.
“We need more primary care physicians in Wisconsin, especially in rural and underserved areas,” Dr. Yee says. Approximately 60% of DO graduates go into primary care, compared with less than 20% of MD graduates.
Dr. Silberg notes that WCOM has strong support from many of the state’s more than 900 DOs.
Approximately 100 students from Wisconsin and another 100 from neighboring Minnesota, which also lacks a DO school, are currently attending osteopathic medical schools in other states, Dr. Silberg points out. “The number of students from Wisconsin and other states applying to osteopathic medical schools is at an all-time high, and it continues to increase steadily,” he says. “So we feel confident that we won’t have difficulty recruiting students to our school.”