This week marked a significant milestone for health care in Colorado Springs, as the Lane Center at UCCS welcomed 22 third-year University of Colorado School of Medicine students for orientation. About half call the region home.
Students begin clinical studies May 2, according to Erik Wallace, associate dean of the CU School of Medicine’s first branch campus.
The first eight weeks will include an inpatient immersion experience, Wallace said, who added students will engage in core hospital rotations in internal medicine, surgery, anesthesiology, pediatrics, psychiatry, labor and delivery and rehabilitation medicine.
“They’ll do that for eight weeks while spread throughout the community — Memorial Hospital, Penrose-St. Francis, Evans Army Hospital and the state mental hospital in Pueblo,” Wallace said.
Patrick Faricy retired this year as Memorial Health System’s chief medical officer and is a member of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s admissions committee.
He said the Colorado Springs’ inaugural class, which will graduate in 2018, impressed him.
“I went to the University of Colorado and graduated [medical school] in 1973,” Faricy said. “I joke with people that I don’t think I would ever be able to get in today because these students are so good. It’s amazing to me the caliber of applicants today.”
The Colorado Springs branch will incorporate a longitudinal integrated clerkship model of training, Wallace said.
A traditional block clerkship model includes up to eight weeks in a particular specialty, but students may never again see patients they cared for during that time because they’re training in a new specialty.
The longitudinal model places students with doctors for a half-day a week for 10 months. It’s more efficient for the practice and provides an in-depth experience for the student, Wallace said, adding the model is focused on developing relationships with patients and doctors.
The medical school branch will have a wider effect than just its educational reach, Wallace said. The goal in educating a couple dozen students a year in the community is to help remedy the regional physician shortage, particularly in primary care.
“Long term, this branch, hopefully, will have a positive effect on our workforce,” Wallace said. “We hope to create a community where it’s the best place to not only get a medical education and training, but also the best place to practice medicine and receive health care. Students will be embedded in most systems in Colorado Springs, which will also allow them to help patients navigate these systems. These students will bring added value to the Springs and surrounding areas.”
Eric Ryan is a Class of 2018 medical student who grew up in Colorado Springs. Ryan earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado Boulder, but it was helping a doctor during summer trips to Uganda before his junior and senior years at CU that pushed him toward a career in medicine.
“It was the most rewarding thing,” he said. “It was amazing how immediate our impact was.”
Ryan heard several years ago that a medical school branch might be coming to the Springs.
“I thought that was really cool and figured it would line up with when I’m in school. Coming here had been on my radar,” he said.
Ryan said the branch could have ancillary effects within the community, including inspiring future classes.
“It will be good for a lot of undergraduate students at [Colorado College] or UCCS or [Pikes Peak] Community College,” he said. “Those looking at paramedic or EMT jobs because they want to go into medicine, it’s good for them to see this around.
“In Boulder there is no medical school,” he added. “It’s tough to have a big, lofty goal that takes a lot of time when you’re not surrounded by [support].”
Chelsea Walter is a Colorado Springs native who will be joining Ryan in her hometown.
Walter was born at Memorial Hospital and graduated from Palmer High School in 2007. She also received her undergraduate degree in Boulder and said she would like to pursue a career as a primary care physician who specializes in geriatrics.
“There’s job security,” Walter said. “I thought about cardiothoracic surgery, but realized after patient contact that I’m more of a people person. … I enjoy working with the elderly and those working in geriatric care tend to be more satisfied with their work because they build relationships.”
Walter said she chose the Colorado Springs branch partly because of its atypical structure.
“We will have a very unique relationship with physicians and will get opportunities to do more and be more involved in patient care,” she said. “I also like the idea of being closer to my family and friends, the support system I have in the Springs, having lived there the majority of my life.”
Faricy said he expects the medical school branch to have a slow, but significant, regional impact.
“When you look at the primary care physician base in Colorado Springs, it’s very low,” he said. “We’ve planned to do things to attract primary care physicians to Colorado Springs. One would be to expose these students to the community in their early stages of training. Another would be offering graduate-level medical training, which this is not.”
Faricy said he anticipates local post-graduate training for physicians “in the very near future,” which would also help retain medical professionals.
Faricy said the region will likely also see an increase in the quality of care.
“Whenever doctors are teaching students, the level of excellence goes up a bit,” he said. “A medical school keeps physicians in the community on their toes. They want to provide their students with the most up-to-date knowledge.”
Wallace said, while health systems in Colorado Springs are among the best, the provider shortage and navigating those systems pose very real problems.
“There are still challenges for patients to access high quality care at the right time,” he said. “We have a rapidly growing population here, but doctor and nurse shortages continue to be a challenge. Until we find other ways to improve workforce numbers in Colorado Springs, this should help.”
Wallace said the city also needs to develop residency training programs, but lauded this branch as a step in the right direction.
“I see this as the beginning of Colorado Springs undergoing a significant change in health care education,” Wallace said. “It’s a game-changer.”