Jump to main content

Osteopathic Medical College Exploration

The University of Northern Colorado is moving forward with its exploration into creating a College of Osteopathic Medicine – a project that would expand UNC’s programmatic offerings in the health sciences and position UNC to enhance its role in meeting the workforce needs of the state and region, positively contributing to the strength, health, and prosperity of our communities. 

An osteopathic medical college at UNC would become the third medical college, campus, or program in Colorado and would help the state alleviate its shortage of physicians, particularly in rural and underserved communities. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), only 34.6% of the state’s need for physicians is met. Launching an osteopathic medical college will help address shortages that affect access to and the overall quality of healthcare service that is available in the state and region. According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. is predicted to face a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by 2033.

The University of Northern Colorado will meet this challenge and is uniquely positioned to leverage existing programs to amplify positive outcomes for healthcare access and quality across the state. Of tremendous benefit to the success of the project, UNC has long had strong programs in the sciences and health sciences, including nursing, public health, behavioral sciences, biology, chemistry, audiology, speech-language pathology, and other fields. UNC is already exploring ways to leverage synergies among programs to enhance the osteopathic medicine curriculum and students’ academic experience in these other fields. UNC will also leverage revenues to reinvest in growing existing programs to amplify its capacity to support the health and strength of communities across Colorado. 

By proceeding on a well-organized timeline from this point through to completion, it is anticipated that the first class of students would begin instruction as early as fall 2025. With 40 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States – only six of which are at public colleges and universities – UNC-COM would be joining a select group of D.O. colleges that would attract students from not just Colorado and the region, but across the country.

The university announced the hiring of Dr. Beth Longenecker as the Founding Dean of UNC-COM on April 12, 2022. She will join UNC in June to lead the medical college through development, accreditation, and on to the goal of becoming a world-class center of medical education. Dr. Longenecker will be a foundational leader in building the college's programmatic offerings in the health sciences. 

President Feinstein

Andy Feinstein President, University of Northern Colorado

“I am excited about the possibility of UNC stepping up to meet the need of producing more physicians in service to our community and region. The creation of an osteopathic medical college at UNC would establish a pipeline of additional physicians to provide high-level care to others, including to individuals in underserved areas. A new medical college would be a win for Greeley, Weld County, the State of Colorado, and UNC.”

John Gates

John Gates – Mayor, City of Greeley 

"I am very excited about the possibility of UNC creating a College of Osteopathic Medicine and fully support the university’s efforts. UNC’s capacity to support the health and economic prosperity of the community, region, and state is only enhanced through the creation of an osteopathic medical school. Greeley, along with other communities in Weld County and Northern Colorado, would benefit from a robust pipeline of well-trained healthcare professionals who are prepared to serve the needs of a rapidly growing region."

Brian Davidson

Brian Davidson, MD – 1999 UNC graduate,
Physician Executive of Banner Health’s Western Division
 

"With UNC’s strong reputation in education and health sciences, it is only natural that the university applies these areas in the bold development of Colorado’s next public medical school. It is a true honor to be part of the team that will take UNC to the next level of education and service for the Rocky Mountain region by training the physicians of the future."

FAQ

  • What motivates the University of Northern Colorado to pursue the development of a College of Osteopathic Medicine – and why is this important to pursue this now?

    A recent feasibility study report prepared by Tripp Umbach, a leading consulting firm in medical education, evaluated a variety of factors such as market demand, economic impact, and the capacity and commitment of healthcare providers to support clinical placements – a vital component of medical education.

    The most important reason is simply that Colorado needs more doctors, specifically in underserved areas, and hospital systems that serve Northern Colorado communities have called on UNC to act. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, only 34.6% of the state’s need for physicians is met. As a result, physician shortages are already negatively affecting access to care, which is felt most acutely in rural and other underserved communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to focus attention on the problems inherent in the limited capacity of our healthcare systems. The shortages Colorado encounters today are projected to get worse. The state's booming population growth over the last decade – at double the national average – coupled with Colorado's high percentage of active physicians aged 60 or older who are expected to exit the workforce in the next few years – one-third of all active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade – are driving factors. Nationally, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of as many as 139,000 physicians, including as many as 55,000 primary care practitioners, by 2033.

    While this is a challenge facing most of the state, especially rural and underserved communities, UNC’s hometown of Greeley has been and will continue to be the fastest growing city in Colorado and one of the fastest growing cities (actually, 4th fastest!) in the United States. The population of the Greeley metropolitan statistical area increased by 30.1% between 2010 and 2020, so the need to meet local and regional needs for physicians is going to continue to grow significantly right in UNC’s backyard.

  • What are some of the other benefits of UNC opening a College of Osteopathic Medicine?  

    The benefits to the health, strength, and growth of local communities and others across the region and state are many—and UNC is excited to move forward in partnership with stakeholders at each level. Developing a College of Osteopathic Medicine in Northern Colorado will have a positive impact on the quality and accessibility of health care and will have direct and indirect benefits to the regional and state economy. It will draw upon UNC’s existing strengths in the sciences and health sciences, developing synergies with programs such as nursing, behavioral sciences, public health, audiology, speech-language pathology, biology, and chemistry to enrich the curriculum—and reinvesting in programs that expand UNC’s capacity to support positive health outcomes for Colorado. As a result, we anticipate that the University of Northern Colorado College of Osteopathic Medicine will improve quality of life in communities across Colorado by growing the capacity of the healthcare system—expanding numbers of highly qualified doctors who have local and regional connections and interests, as well as by enhancing access to healthcare, especially in rural and other underserved communities.

    Diversity in healthcare matters. UNC serves large numbers of underrepresented, first generation, and Pell-eligible students and is projected to be federally recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution in the coming years. As a result, the College of Osteopathic Medicine is being developed with careful attention to providing academic pathways for underrepresented minority students to pursue medical degrees—and, through their success, produce a pipeline for achieving greater diversity in the physician workforce. This effort is emerging at a time when Black students are enrolling in medical school in record numbers.

    The feasibility study from summer 2021 also projects UNC’s proposed medical school will contribute as a major driver of the local, regional, and state economy, creating jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in economic impact to the region. When the school is fully operational, it will generate $66.7 million in total economic impact per year (direct, indirect, and induced impacts) and will add $2.7 million in state and local government revenue. In addition, by 2035, the economic impact will grow to $78.9 million as communities in Northern Colorado will begin realizing health-care benefits and additional economic impact because graduates locate in the region. Assuming that 25% of graduates from the college practice in underserved communities, Tripp Umbach estimates that by 2035 these new primary-care physicians will also yield real savings, as emergency room utilization declines and quality of care improves. These savings are expected to total $136.8 million annually by 2035.

  • Why does UNC believe it is well positioned to meet these needs?  

    The University of Northern Colorado is uniquely positioned to leverage existing programs to amplify positive outcomes for healthcare access and quality across the state. Of tremendous benefit to the success of the project, UNC has long had strong programs in the sciences and health sciences, including nursing, public health, behavioral sciences, biology, chemistry, audiology, speech-language pathology, and other fields. UNC is already exploring ways to leverage synergies among programs to enhance the osteopathic medicine curriculum and students’ academic experience in these other fields. For example, there is potential for making a significant impact on mental health outcomes by preparing osteopathic primary care physicians—the leading area of practice for D.O.’s—with greater knowledge, skills, and competencies in the behavioral sciences. A recent study by the Robert Graham Center found that primary care physicians were responsible for providing a majority of the care for depression, anxiety, serious mental illness, and other mental health needs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; unmet mental healthcare need has only increased as a result of the pandemic.  UNC will also leverage revenues to reinvest in growing existing programs to amplify its capacity to support the health and strength of communities across Colorado.

  • What is the difference between DO (osteopathic) and MD (allopathic) programs and degrees?

    Both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools teach students the scientific foundations needed to become licensed physicians, but they take different approaches. Allopathic medicine focuses on diagnosing and treating medical conditions, while osteopathic medicine takes a more holistic, patient-centered approach and focuses heavily on prevention. According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA)’s 2019 figures, nearly 57% of DOs practice in primary care specialties, 31% are family physicians, and 7% are pediatricians. By comparison, less than 30% of MDs practice in primary care specialties, 11% are family physicians or in general practice, and just under 7% are pediatricians (data from the Association of American Medical Colleges).

    Graduates of allopathic programs receive Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., degrees. Graduates of osteopathic programs receive Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or D.O. degrees. After medical school, both M.D.s and D.O.s must complete residency training in their chosen specialties. They must also pass the same licensing examination before they can treat others and prescribe medication.

  • How much is it going to cost for UNC to launch an osteopathic medical college?

    In order to open the University of Northern Colorado College of Osteopathic Medicine, it is estimated that UNC will need to raise a minimum of $133 million. UNC will raise these funds through a wide variety of means—principally through philanthropy, but we are also exploring opportunities for one-time state and local government support, partnerships, and other sources of funding. Once it is fully operational, the College is planned to be completely self-supporting, and will provide additional operating revenue that can be used to strengthen UNC’s existing programs in the sciences, health sciences, and beyond.

    Construction Budget: $50 million+ 
    Physical plant costs including design, construction, and furnishings for the development of an osteopathic medical school facility will be at least $50 million to accommodate a medical school class size of 150 students per year. The projected cost could increase if additional space is planned to develop synergies with other programs in the sciences and health sciences or facilitate other programmatic opportunities such as workshops for K-12 students to explore careers in healthcare.

    Start-Up Costs: $30 million 
    Total start-up costs over the three planning years and first two years of operations until tuition revenues are projected to match expenditures equal approximately $30 million.

    Escrowed Funds Required by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation: $53 million
    The accrediting body, COCA, requires escrowed funds intended to fund teach-out agreements for the matriculated students in the event that the program fails during its initial years of operation prior to graduation of its first class of students.  Estimates for the escrowed funds equal approximately $53 million.    

  • Where is the money coming from to fund this project?

    The start-up funding to support this project will primarily come from external sources, including philanthropic support. Multiple generous donors have committed to support the project in its initial phase. Once the osteopathic medical college has been established, we believe that the program will generate enough revenue after two years of operation to be self-supporting.

  • What is the projected timeline for developing – and eventually opening – an osteopathic medical college at UNC?

    The University of Northern Colorado is currently in the exploratory phase of its development of a College of Osteopathic Medicine. If UNC continues to make progress on its current timeline, the first class of medical students would begin in fall 2025. 

    Summer 2021Feasibility Study Conducted: Consultants engaged a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders to determine the need for a medical school in Northern Colorado and assess market demand, economic impact, and the capacity and commitment of healthcare providers to support clinical placements. 

    Secured Donor Funding to Support Initial Project Phases 

    Fall 2021Feasibility Study Completed and Presented to University Community and Board of Trustees: Board of Trustees authorized university to initiate the process of hiring a Founding Dean contingent on statutory authorization from the State of Colorado and pursue applicant status with the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). 

    Winter 2021/2022 through Spring 2022 – UNC Submits for Applicant Status with COCA and Conducts Nationwide Search for Founding Dean 

    UNC Seeks Statutory Authorization to Offer Osteopathic Medical Education 

    Founding Dean Begins:  The Dean will begin vital work to create a business plan, develop the program curriculum, support work to secure start-up funds, and collaborate with partners to secure additional commitments for clinical placements and residencies. 

    Summer 2023  – UNC Projected to Receive Candidate Status: University submits self-study and business plan along with teach-out and escrow agreements to COCA. 

    Spring 2024 – UNC Projected to Receive Pre-Accreditation Status and COCA Conducts Site Visit 

    Fall 2025  – First Class of Students Begin 

  • Why did the University of Northern Colorado pursue legislation authorizing the institution to provide programs in osteopathic medical education?  

    Previously, the University of Colorado had exclusive authority in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and physical therapy education, as defined in CRS 23-20-101, “University of Colorado – role and mission – all campuses.” Senate Bill 22-056 amends the University of Northern Colorado’s role and mission (CRS 23-40-101) to include programs in osteopathic medicine and notes this exception to the University of Colorado’s exclusive authority in CRS 23-20-101. This change in statute was necessary for the University of Northern Colorado to proceed with the development of an osteopathic medical school. Senate Bill 56 was passed unanimously by the House and Senate with bipartisan support and was signed by Governor Polis on March 17, 2022.

  • What were the results of the feasibility study conducted?
  • Where would the College of Osteopathic Medicine be housed (organizationally and physically)?

    Because UNC is still in the exploratory phase of the process, these are questions that do not yet have answers. Organizationally, the College of Osteopathic Medicine will likely stand alone as its own academic unit much like the other colleges. Where colleges of osteopathic medicine sit in the organizational chart at universities varies, so this will be an important decision to make as UNC proceeds with the project. Physically, one potential location for the medical school is on the current site occupied by Bishop-Lehr Hall, where UNC has property and facilities that are not being fully utilized. However, other locations on campus and nearby in Greeley will be considered.

  • How is the medical college anticipated to affect current programs in UNC’s College of Natural and Health Sciences?

    Programs in NHS will continue to have their own faculty and staff to support its programs. Care is also already being taken to ensure that there are a sufficient number of commitments for clinical placements available so that NHS students and DO students will not have to compete.

    In many ways, programs in the sciences and allied health professions at UNC will benefit from natural synergies between the programs, the development of new shared facilities, as well as additional revenues that can support and expand our capacity to serve students across a variety of fields and programs at UNC. Additionally, pre-med students at UNC will benefit from the existence of a medical school at the university.   

  • Will an osteopathic medical college divert the focus and energy of UNC’s current employees from their important work?   

    While some university leaders may be asked to support work devoted to the medical school, particularly in its early phases, most faculty and staff will not be asked to divert their attention from their critical ongoing work to support this project. In November, the Board of Trustees voted to allow the university to move forward with the hiring of a Founding Dean once UNC has received statutory authority from the state to proceed. Once hired, that individual will oversee most of the work associated with creating the College of Osteopathic Medicine such as developing a curriculum for the program, designing a building to meet the College’s needs, and working toward successfully admitting its first cohort of students. The Founding Dean will need to hire support staff, including associate deans, faculty, and other staff as the project progresses. The costs associated with the hiring of personnel at the medical school are included in the overall financial calculations.

  • If UNC officially moves forward with this, when might we see the first class of students? 

    If we proceed on a well-organized timeline from this point through to completion, it is anticipated that the first class of students would begin instruction in fall 2025. Certainly, the enrollment of a first class could occur later and there is even some chance it could happen sooner. UNC’s leadership will continue to keep our community informed about our progress. 

Case Statement

November 2021 Town Hall  

UNC hosted a town hall on November 4, 2021 to discuss the findings of a feasibility study for the Osteopathic Medical College. UNC began working with consulting firm Tripp Umbach in July 2021 to conduct the feasibility study, which included an evaluation of market demand, economic impact, and the capacity and commitment of healthcare providers to support clinical placements. Paul Umbach and Julie Chimel from Tripp Umbach shared the results of the study and members of the university community had the opportunity to ask questions following the presentation.  

beth longenecker headshot

UNC-COM Founding Dean: Beth Longenecker, DO, MS, FACOEP, FACEP

Dr. Longenecker received her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1991. She completed a one-year rotating internship at Doctor's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio in 1992 and subsequently a residency in emergency medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. She continues to be certified in this specialty by the American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Longenecker is a member of the inaugural class of the Costin Institute for Osteopathic Medical Educators (2005) and completed the Harvard Macy Institute Program for Educators in Healthcare Professions in 2008. She received a master’s degree in medical education and leadership from the University of New England in 2016. She is a 2017 AACOM Health Policy Fellow.

Dr. Longenecker has 20 years of experience in medical education. She began in her new role as the founding dean of the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Northern Colorado in June of 2022.

Prior to this, she served as the Athens Campus Dean at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Associate Dean of Clinical Sciences at the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hattiesburg, MS. Her previous experience in medical education was at the GME level, serving as emergency medicine residency program director at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, NY.

Dr. Longenecker is a member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), the American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians (ACOEP) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). She served as President of the Illinois Osteopathic Medical Society (IOMS), holds an appointment on the Bureau of Education of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and serves as a Site Inspector for the AOA Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). She is the osteopathic representative on the GSA COASA MSPE Effective Practices Working Group. She was a trustee on the board of the Foundation for Osteopathic Emergency Medicine (FOEM) (2015-2021) and was a member of the board of directors of the ACOEP from 2005-2014, serving as treasurer in 2011-2012. Dr. Longenecker was a delegate for the state of Illinois at the 2016 and 2017 AOA House of Delegates and is a will be serving as a delegate for the state of Colorado at the AOA business meeting in July 2022.