Meeting tomorrow’s healthcare needs, today

Educating the medical students of tomorrow is not only a matter of meeting the challenges of today’s healthcare landscape, but proactively anticipating future ones.

According to some experts, ATSU’s new osteopathic medical school couldn’t come at a better time - or a better place. Studies estimate a national shortage of as many as 200,000 physicians by 2020. In addition, the way healthcare is delivered in this country is rapidly changing because of increased demands for services, the economics of providing affordable healthcare, and the need to ensure quality healthcare.

As a response, ATSU formed Blue Ribbon Committees of national healthcare experts, medical educators, and technology experts to develop a new, modern, technology-driven curriculum that will serve as a model to move the osteopathic medical profession to a leadership position in medical education.

Dean of SOMA

What it's like to be a SOMA Student

Making the Case

New Concept for Medical Education

ATSU’s newest medical school, the School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, was developed in response to a need expressed by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). The aim of the educational program is to produce leaders in medicine who will take the foundation of a broad education in medicine to improve health through patient care and educational research. It will prepare physicians to practice compassionate clinical medicine of the highest standard and to identify and solve fundamental questions in the mechanisms, prevention and treatment of disease. ATSU-SOMA utilizes the Clinical Presentation Educational Model and follows an innovative path built around a core of dedicated faculty who design and teach course content modules and who work with renowned visiting faculty.

Community Health Centers anticipate a need for an additional 14,000 physicians by 2020, and are partnering with ATSU to identify, educate, and train high quality, community minded physicians.The medical school continues ATSU’s partnership with NACHC by featuring Contextual learning partner sites at twelve of the nation’s premier Community Health Centers. This nationally representative network of Community Health Centers serve as partner sites for students during their second, third and fourth years of medical school. These partner sites, staffed by ATSU-SOMA faculty, provide team-learning classrooms, primary care clinical experience homes, and a continuity base for local CHC affiliated specialty rotations.

Feasibility Study

A feasibility study led by Douglas Wood, DO, PhD, former dean of SOMA and former president of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, justified the expressed need for revisions to medical curriculum and improvements in healthcare delivery. The study incorporated advice from experts in business and education sectors, as well as acknowledging the growing body of literature that addresses these problems.

Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Science Content of Medical School Curricula
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, March 24, 2004

Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, April 8, 2003 (Press Release)

Educating Doctors to Provide High Quality Medical Care
The Institute for Improving Medical Education, Association of American Medical Colleges, July 2004

Curriculum - What's Different?

ATSU-SOMA will complement the osteopathic medical school model used by ATSU’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine by adding innovative strategies to what already exists. The most striking change is ATSU’s new partnership with National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), which provide a healthcare safety net for underserved communities. SOMA students will begin their clinical observations in CHCs at the start of their second year instead of waiting until the third year as in traditional models.

Parts of the basic sciences will be bundled with clinical sciences and learned together. This practice of learning skills in the same environment in which they will be applied is called “contextual learning.” This has been shown to be more effective than methods that impose arbitrary educational divisions.

Another change is the incorporation of the Clinical Presentation Model, which holds that there are approximately 120 different ways that patients present to physicians. Students will learn in-depth responses to these presentations. Former Dean Doug Wood, DO, PhD, noted that the overall design of this curriculum will emphasize clinical competencies.

“The curriculum will provide students with a framework for making clinical decisions, allowing them to practice a method of analysis and an approach to patients that they will use for the rest of their professional career,” he said.

Wood also believes that by spending an extended period of time in CHCs, students will have better relationships with their patients.

“After building relationships that are more than short-term encounters, ATSU believes students will thereby be more compassionate physicians with higher integrity,” he said. “Our goal is to produce humane healthcare leaders who are technologically adept, prevention oriented, and who are lifelong learners and teachers.”

Not only will students be advantaged by the new curriculum, but CHC patients also will benefit from these changes. By putting osteopathic medical students in the CHCs, ATSU is working toward ensuring that underserved communities have the healthcare they need.

The new curriculum will be successful, said Dr. Wood, because it has been planned using Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME). The use of BEME requires that only the curricular elements that have been studied and proven effective are selected and implemented.

Along with the dramatic changes occurring at ATSU, the University is keeping its focus on osteopathic principles and a humanistic approach to healthcare and education. The new curriculum was designed to enhance whole person healthcare, Wood said, ensuring that physicians care for people in their entirety – in body, mind, and spirit.


Community Health Center Partners

Student education in years two through four is based at one of 11 select community health center partners across the country. The second year is spent in these community health center partners in small group settings, learning additional clinical presentations, participating in patient care, and gaining an understanding of the local health system and community health practices. Third- and fourth-year students complete their clinical rotations at their community health center partners, associated hospitals, as well as with affiliated healthcare providers and at select healthcare institutions. Osteopathic principles and practices are integrated throughout the curriculum, and the osteopathic manipulative treatment program is designed for primary care applications. This provides distinctive training in the value of healing touch in patient care.

ATSU partnered with the following Community Health Centers and safety-net providers for Community Campuses:

  • Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, based in Beaufort, SC (north of Hilton Head), and serving rural, suburban and ethnic populations in the low-country region of South Carolina.
  • HealthSource of Ohio, based in Mt. Orab, OH (east of Cincinnati), and serving rural, farming, ethnic, religious and Appalachian communities across southern Ohio.
  • North Country Healthcare, based in Flagstaff, AZ, and serving isolated and ethnic populations in rural northern and eastern Arizona.
  • Adelante Healthcare, based in the Phoenix, Arizona area, serving communities in central Arizona and the Southwest.
  • El Rio Community Health Center, based in Tucson, AZ, and serving urban, suburban, ethnic, HIV, and homeless constituents in and around Tucson.
  • Family HealthCare Network, based in Visalia and Porterville, CA (Community Health Center is located in Visalia) is located south of Fresno and serves suburban and farm-worker populations in the valley at the base of Yosemite National Park.
  • NWRPCA Campus - (Northwest Regional Primary Care Association), a regional model with the classroom based in Portland, Oregon, serving rural and urban community health centers throughout Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
  • HealthPoint (formerly Community Health Centers of King County), serving urban, suburban, émigré and ethnic populations in the county east and south of Seattle, WA.
  • NearNorth Health Service Corporation based in Chicago, IL provides healthcare, social services and nutrition education to the medically indigent and uninsured residents of the inner-city Chicago area.
  • Unity Healthcare, based in Washington, D.C., serving urban, suburban, ethnic, HIV, older adult and homeless populations.
  • Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, based in Waianae, Hawaii, addresses health disparities, improves population health, and reduces health inequalities despite financial and cultural barriers.

Community, Migrant and Homeless Health Centers are not-for-profit providers of healthcare to America’s medically underserved communities. For nearly 40 years, they have improved the health status of communities by bringing doctors, primary and enabling health services, and facilities into the nation’s neediest and most isolated communities. Health centers improve the health status of their communities by promoting healthy behaviors, improving access to care, offering opportunities for self-improvement, and providing comprehensive, coordinated, and evidence-based medical care for sick, disabled, chronically ill, and at- risk individuals. In order to improve the health status of whole communities, the centers provide access to all - regardless of ability to pay. In order to provide access to all, these community-governed organizations offer sliding fee scales to the working poor, the uninsured, and high-risk and vulnerable populations. Today, this network of comprehensive primary care organizations serves more than 16 million people in over 3,600 communities - spanning urban, suburban and rural settings in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

Related Links

National Association of Community Health Centers
Bureau of Primary Health Care web site through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
SOMA’s Hometown Partnerships for Health Program