A majority of Idahoans live in small rural towns where shopping local is not only the preferred option, but the only nearby option. Neighbors know neighbors, and it is safe for kids to walk to school. It is quintessential, except for one thing: the shortage of doctors in these rural communities.
You have probably heard the statistic that Idaho ranks 49th (per capita) for its lack of doctors in the state, and while the proposed Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) is working to fix that issue in all parts of Idaho, we really need to focus on our rural communities where there is a tremendous shortage.
Thirty-five of Idaho’s 44 counties are defined as rural. That’s nearly 80 percent, and of those 35, 16 counties are classified as frontier counties. A frontier county is remote with its residents far from grocery stores, schools and health care.
Designations by health experts have determined that primary care health professional shortage areas in Idaho cover more than 93 percent of the total land area, and the mental health professional shortage area encompasses all of Idaho. Having ICOM will make a big impact on these tremendous needs.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare acknowledges the lack of physicians, and in its 2016 Idaho Primary Health Care Needs Assessment, it says that in order to address the workforce need, a strong primary care delivery system needs to be established that eradicates the barriers, beginning with a strong education system.
Osteopathic schools across the nation have become a formidable force for states that are looking to remedy the lack of primary physicians. Idaho is the most populous state without a medical school of its own, for now. It is expensive to operate a medical school, so with the support of state and local leaders, ICOM has become a financially favorable option that won’t cost taxpayers.
Building the school will take $120 million and will be funded by private investors. In addition to that, ICOM will provide Idaho with an economic impact of more than $50 million a year once it is in full operation. Idaho students will get the first opportunity at enrollment, and tuition will be less than the average private osteopathic medical or allopathic school.
To help change the shortage of primary physicians in our state, ICOM will give special admission consideration to Idahoans who come from rural Idaho towns to increase the amount of physicians that want to return to their hometowns or escape the busy city and live in small quaint communities.
ICOM plans to open in August 2018 to start changing the face of Idaho’s physician shortfall.
Rodney Bates, DO, is board-certified in internal medicine and is with Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg.