Since its conception, the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, or ICOM, has boasted that it will be a game changer for health care in the region.
ICOM will be the first medical school in Idaho when it opens in Meridian this summer. The three-story college, next to Idaho State University-Meridian off Interstate 84, will tentatively be complete June 11, two months before the first class of students arrives.
As of Wednesday, 152 students have committed to the college, leaving 10 spots still open. School starts Aug. 20, and the college is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 5.
Idaho currently partners with medical schools in neighboring states to offer spots for Idaho medical students. When announcing ICOM in February 2016, Gov. Butch Otter said Idaho needs to do more to address its “critical doctor shortage.”
The Burrell Group, a New Mexico investment group, is the main funder of ICOM, which is a private, for-profit college. The same group also started the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University.
ICOM students will earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, or D.O., as opposed to a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D. Both groups are licensed physicians with similar schooling, training and practices, but their philosophies vary. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes holistic care and preventative treatment.
“The reason we chose to do an osteopathic medical school is the fact that D.O.s are more likely to practice in primary care and also to practice in rural and underserved settings,” said Dr. Robert Hasty, ICOM’s founding dean and chief academic officer.
According to Hasty, roughly 56 percent of osteopathic medical students go into primary care residencies — on-the-job training for medical school graduates — and end up practicing in primary care specialties.
“If you look at the huge need in Idaho, that is really going to make the biggest difference,” he said.
Idaho ranks 49th for the number of physicians and 50th for primary care physicians per capita in the nation, Hasty said.
One in four medical students nationwide is in osteopathic medicine, he said, though the number of osteopathic students is on the rise. Osteopathic colleges in the U.S. saw a 26 percent in enrollment from 2011-2012 to 2015-2016, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.
Osteopathic students complete an extra 250 hours of training in the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones, Hasty said.
“That’s hands on training for the medical students for patients — it teaches them evidence-based care for conditions such as lower back pain,” he said.
Hasty plans to put an emphasis on training caring doctors. This is reflected in several aspects of the college’s testing, including the “mom test,” requiring students pass a test saying they “would want to care for their mothers one day” in order to be admitted to ICOM.
Students will also be tested on paid actors in simulated scenarios, such as dealing with difficult patients or informing a patient of bad news.
“Even with all the technology we have, the caring aspect is still the most important,” Hasty said.
Hasty said medical schools can become toxic environments because of the high-stress nature of the atmosphere mixed with each student’s desire to do well.
He plans to work to create a positive environment for students from the school’s beginning.
Hasty said the college will have one faculty member for every eight to nine students.
Members of the medical community throughout ICOM’s region have expressed concern over whether local hospitals and medical organizations are prepared to handle an influx of new medical students and graduates who need training.
According to ICOM, more than $5 million has been allocated for the development of residency programs in the first 10 years.
One of those residency programs is the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, which is in the process of creating a residency program. ICOM will contribute $500,000 of “seed money” in June to start the program.
ICOM is also planning on partnering with ISU-Meridian on some of their community clinics and other programs.
THE BUILDING ITSELF
Construction of the $34 million ICOM building, which is three-stories tall and 94,000 square feet, was under budget and ahead of schedule as of April 10, according to Hasty.
“To design a facility with everything we need is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hasty said.
The building was designed to allow in natural light and give students an appealing learning environment. The building three student lounges, a courtyard with three miles of paths and two infinity pools, a library with 124 seats and private study areas, 24 small group study rooms with high-definition monitors and glass whiteboards, and 72 Wi-Fi connection spots, according to Chris Wilson, ICOM director of facilities.
The first floor also includes a women’s breastfeeding room that will have a refrigerator, sink and live recordings of lectures.
“Women who have to nurse won’t miss a lecture,” Wilson said.
The building also has a spiritual room where students can pray or practice their chosen faith.
Art installations planned for the inside of the building include a mosaic of John McClusky’s work in the atrium and acrylic panels of anatomical sketches in the hallways of the second floor.
The food service area on the building’s second floor will have daily meals from Meridian’s It’s All About You Catering.
According to Wilson, the dining area is on the second floor to increase student-faculty interaction.
“We don’t have separate faculty-staff lounges,” Wilson said. “We want to put students and administration together.”
The building has two lecture halls with 200 seats each. As a safety feature, the click of a button seals the room’s main entrance while giving students and faculty members a way out of the building.
The ICOM building has 64 high-definition cameras and a safety system providing mass notifications during a threat.
“We have a single point of entry for the building,” said Hasty, explaining that students and faculty can leave a number of exits, but will need a keycard to get back in.
ICOM received the pre-accreditation required to begin construction in May 2017 from the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. The college’s groundbreaking was held that same month.
ICOM plans to get certificate of occupancy by June 11. In July, faculty and staff are planned to begin moving to their offices.