There are approximately 150 primary care physicians per 100,000 Americans. Here in Idaho, that number is 65. Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for primary care physicians per capita, contributing to the unfortunate distinction as the “Least Healthy State” by the United Health Foundation. For nearly 50 years, Idaho has partnered with the University of Washington’s WWAMI program to bring high quality medical education to the state. Their work has created an outstanding pipeline for physicians in training and their model for multi-state medical education has earned the respect and admiration of the nation.
Despite their impressive efforts, the shortage still persists. Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the country, so we must train more physicians to keep up with the demands and improve the health of the state. This is where the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) can help make an impact.
ICOM opened in 2018 and matriculated its second class in August of 2019. This Class of 2023 is comprised of graduates from 104 U.S. colleges and universities, with above average MCAT scores and highly competitive undergraduate grade point averages. These students originate from 38 states, with approximately one-third coming from Idaho and ICOM’s five-state target region which includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medicine. From their first day of school, osteopathic medical students are trained to look at the whole person. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) use all the knowledge, skills, tools, and technology available in modern medicine, with the added benefits of a holistic philosophy and emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention. Because of this whole-person approach to medicine, the majority of DO graduates choose to practice in the much needed primary care disciplines.
Prior to ICOM, Idaho was the most populous state without a medical school of its own. Our student-physicians practice in a state-of-the-art facility, and with the latest technology. A combination of didactic learning, simulation and early clinical experience occur during the first two years of our four-year program. In years three and four, students complete clinical rotations, where they are embedded in community-based hospitals and clinics with local collaborations.
All medical school graduates must complete a residency program in their desired specialty after graduation. Idaho has a critical shortage of these residency programs, again ranking 49th in the nation for residency positions per capita. ICOM is committed to assisting in the development and expansion of new residency programs.
As ICOM’s new Dean and Chief Academic Officer, I’m looking forward to leading the college in its mission to train caring and competent osteopathic physicians prepared to serve Idaho and beyond, with an emphasis on rural and underserved areas. Our faculty and staff provide an outstanding curriculum to prepare our students for success. However, if we are to truly make a difference in the critical physician shortage in the region, we will need to collaborate closely with our colleagues in education and healthcare to develop new clinical training opportunities and graduate medical education programs. I am confident that given the critical need, Idahoans will work with us to make this happen.