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Pioneering the Three-Year Osteopathic Family Physician Degree

Public HealthMay 26, 06

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) is taking a lead position in the future of medical education by introducing a new program to attract more physicians to family practice. LECOM is continuing its mission to help grow the osteopathic medical profession by starting a Primary Care Scholars Pathway (PCSP) that will reduce the time it takes to become a family physician.

The LECOM PCSP has received approval from the American Osteopathic Association Committee on Osteopathic College Accreditation and backing of the American College of Osteopathic Family Practice. The PCSP will condense four years of medical education into three years in order to graduate more family doctors sooner and to save these students one year of expenses that adds to the mounting debt held by medical college graduates.

The AOA COCA approved the substantive change requested by LECOM to initiate the Primary Care Scholars Pathway in the 2007-2008 academic year. The program will begin with six students in the first year, eight in 2008-2009, 10 in 2010-2011, and 12 students in 2011-2012. The new program will not affect the approved class size, which the AOA has set at 250 students in 2007.

“LECOM proposed this innovative curricular pathway in response to the declining interest in primary care and particularly family practice,” explained LECOM President John M. Ferretti, D.O. “We hope to attract new students by offering them a shorter path to a medical degree without jeopardizing their education in the areas needed to train a family physician.”

LECOM formed a committee through the College’s Primary Care Department led by Associate Professor of Family Medicine Richard Ortoski, D.O. The committee reviewed the need for family physicians and the factors causing the decreasing number of medical students who are interested in primary care.

“Numerous factors account for the declining numbers of medical students applying to become family doctors,” according to Hershey Bell, M.D., Director of the LECOM Teaching and Learning Center and a member of the PCSP committee. “The rising cost of medical education and the lower earning power of family practice physicians becomes an impediment to students with an interest in family medicine.”

Research indicates that medical college selection factors based on higher MCAT scores and GPAs weigh against students who want to become family physicians in rural areas and small towns where the need for new doctors is greatest. LECOM plans to carefully select applicants who show the greatest interest in family practice and the best chance to succeed.

The committee looked at the best ways to meet the educational requirements and keep the curriculum within four years. Based on LECOM’s experience developing its unique Problem-Based Learning and Independent Study curriculums, the committee chose to use the Independent Study learning modules as a guide to the new curriculum. LECOM will eliminate the student’s first summer vacation and start the second year basic science and clinical courses so that the second year will end in early March. PCSP students immediately will begin core clinical rotations at carefully selected hospitals and physician offices. The college will designate Millcreek Community Hospital, St. Vincent Health Center, and Hamot Medical Center in Erie, PA, along with Meadville (PA) Medical Center and UHHS-Richmond Heights, OH, as the core rotation sites for PCSP students.

Dr. Ortoski’s group also reviewed the third-year and fourth-year clinical rotations needed to become family physicians. “We see in every medical school class that students choose electives based on their desire to explore medical specialties and audition for internships and residencies at their favorite hospitals while on rotations,” Dr. Ortoski explains. “By concentrating on the core primary care rotations and creating new clinical experiences needed to become good family doctors, we can reduce the final two years of medical college to just over a year.” With less vacation time, PSCP students still will have spent as much time in training as their fellow students in the four-year programs.

In the fall of 2007, LECOM will select its first PCSP class from a group of candidates after they complete the first twelve weeks of Gross Anatomy. Medical students who enter PCSP in October 2007 will graduate with a Doctor of Osteopathic Degree in 2010. Graduates will continue their post-graduate education through a three-year residency program at selected hospitals.

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine is one of the fastest growing medical schools in the country. LECOM has medical colleges in Erie, Pennsylvania and Bradenton, Florida and a School of Pharmacy in Erie.

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) is a physician trained and licensed to practice the full scope of medicine in all 50 states. D.O.s focus on the whole person and consider all facets of a person’s life when treating illness, disease and injury. In addition to using all forms of standard medical treatment, D.O.s are trained to use osteopathic manipulative treatment to help diagnose injury and illness, to alleviate pain and to promote wellness. Osteopathic physicians work in partnership with each person to help promote health on physical, emotional and spiritual levels.

The Doctor of Pharmacy has become a key partner in primary health care and complements LECOM’s osteopathic, whole-person medical mission.

The demand for pharmacists is high due to the increased medication and health care needs of an older population. There are also a wide variety of practice settings for our graduates to choose from including, community, hospital, industry, mail service/internet, managed care, government, academia, and others.

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine & School of Pharmacy

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