New Proposed Osteopathic School in Wichita Is Moving Forward

By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Renovations are underway to turn a historic downtown Wichita building into Kansas’ first osteopathic medical college and the second medical school in the state.

The proposed Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCOM), which has applied for accreditation from the accreditation arm of the American Osteopathic Association, is expected to enroll its first cohort class in August 2022, according to its Founding Dean and Chief Academic Officer Robert Hasty, DO.

Robert Hasty, DO

The college will begin with a class of 85 students and could grow to accept about twice that many, Dr. Hasty says. About 85 faculty will be recruited to create and teach the curriculum, and more than 200 physicians have already answered his invitation to apply for adjunct professorships with the school, Dr. Hasty says. Eventually, the school could have as many as 500 adjunct professors.

The private nonprofit Kansas Health Science Center (KHSC) is starting the school in response to a Kansas task force report that recommended establishing a second medical school to help meet the state’s need for more doctors, particularly in rural areas. The task force was appointed in 2017 by then-Gov. Sam Brownback, who had initially floated the idea of an osteopathic medical school since they tend to focus on primary care training.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Kansas ranks 40th in the U.S. for the number of active physicians per capita. Additionally, the task force report pointed out the shortage of Kansas doctors is expected to grow because of aging medical providers. Nearly 29 percent of physicians in Kansas are older than 60, the report says.

This will be the second medical school Dr. Hasty has helped create. Three years ago, he helped start Idaho’s first medical school, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, and was its Chief Academic Officer until this past May. Idaho’s ranking in active physicians per capita is even worse than Kansas’ ranking, coming in 49th out of 50 states. The Idaho school started its first class last year.

Dr. Hasty is also no stranger to the task of securing new residency positions. Before moving to Idaho, Dr. Hasty had been the Associate Dean of Campbell University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina, where he helped find more than 380 new residency positions. Some educators and others in Kansas have expressed concern that the Kansas healthcare system may not have the capacity to provide clinical training to more medical students.

Dr. Hasty says he believes there are untapped resources among the state’s 120-plus hospitals and thousands of clinics where KCOM students could train. On a recent morning, he had just returned from talking to a group of physicians who had responded favorably to taking new residents.

Since becoming part of the KHSC leadership team in May, Dr. Hasty and KHSC President Tiffany Masson, a clinical psychologist, have been traveling around Kansas to meet with physicians, nurses, other healthcare professionals, and educators, community leaders and other stakeholders to learn more about how the school should best prepare its future doctors.

On this listening tour, the pair have been hearing that Kansas med students should be trained in new technologies, be able to contribute to emerging and innovative healthcare delivery systems, have leadership, team-based and interprofessional skills, and be able to graduate with lower student debt. According to the AAMC, the average debt for public school medical students was nearly $244,000 in 2018, while private school students averaged nearly $323,000 in debt.

The pair also heard the school should recruit students who are from or already familiar with rural areas and who would be willing to return to rural and underserved areas after their education.

Dr. Hasty says data shows that Kansans are going to medical school elsewhere — either because spots are limited at the state’s current school or by choice. A report by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine indicated that more than 175 Kansans applied to osteopathic medical schools outside of the state for 2019. Once a student has left the state, it can be a challenge to recruit them back, Dr. Hasty says. Another in-state school could help prevent that brain drain.

The college, a $125 million project according to Dr. Hasty, will occupy 116,000 square feet in the first five floors of what had most recently been the Finney State Office Building that housed a number of state agencies between 1994 and 2014. Before then, the building had been home to different department stores over the years, including the Innes department store starting in 1927.

The college is part of a larger development in Wichita’s downtown area — including a hotel, culinary school, apartments and other businesses — being created by pharmacist-turned-developer Sudha Tokala. The apartments that will become available in a building already connected by a walkway to the college could provide a nearby living option for the medical students and faculty.