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Osteopathic Medical School Exploration

The University of Northern Colorado is exploring the possibility of creating an osteopathic medical school—a project that would expand UNC’s programmatic offerings in the health sciences and position UNC and enhance its role in meeting the workforce needs of the state and region, positively contributing to the strength, health, and prosperity of our communities.

In July, UNC President Andy Feinstein shared with the university community that a feasibility study would be conducted to include an evaluation of market demand, economic impact, and the capacity and commitment of healthcare providers to support clinical placements.

The results of the feasibility study can be found here and the recording of the town hall hosted November 4, 2021 is now available online.

An osteopathic medical school at UNC would become the third medical school 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 medicine school 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. 

President Feinstein

“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 school 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 school would be a win for Greeley, Weld County, the State of Colorado, and UNC.”

- Andy Feinstein, UNC President

FAQ

  • Why is UNC pursuing the creation of an osteopathic medical school? 

    As a doctoral research university, UNC fosters an engaging, enriching educational experience that prepares graduates for successful careers that positively impact the communities in which they live. UNC’s pursuit of an osteopathic school expands the university’s programs in the health sciences and aligns with its strategic plan – specifically relating to the “Innovate and Create” and “Connect and Celebrate” vision elements, which focus on UNC’s efforts to address societal needs through education, shape the future of Colorado and the region, and leverage partnerships across the community to enrich educational experiences and outcomes.  

    The University of Northern Colorado was founded as a Normal School in 1889 to meet the need for educators in Greeley and Northern Colorado. 132 years later, UNC finds itself well-positioned to meet another distinct set of needs in the community and region. With dramatic population growth in Colorado (CO’s population grew at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the nation from 2010-2020 according to the US Census Bureau) and an aging physician population (one-third of all active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade), a new medical school would provide the State of Colorado with additional physicians to provide high-level care to the community, including underserved and uninsured residents. Similar trends and needs in neighboring states signal an opportunity for this project to have benefits beyond Colorado’s borders. One of the findings of the feasibility study indicates the state’s current medical education infrastructure does not meet the demand for students who wish to pursue medical education or produce enough physicians to meet current and future needs.

  • How would the university—and specifically its students and faculty—benefit from an osteopathic medical school? 

    The University of Northern Colorado is home to a number of programs in the sciences, health sciences, and allied health professions. The synergies that can be developed between these programs and a new osteopathic medical school, including through the prospective development of shared facilities, have the potential to enrich students’ educational experience and faculty research opportunities in these fields. For students in the sciences who dream to go to medical school, the program will create a seamless pathway from undergraduate programs through to the profession.  

    Additionally, because the medical school would be owned and operated by UNC, the university would directly benefit financially from the revenue generated, which in turn would be used to enhance other academic programs and areas across the university, but especially in the sciences, health sciences, and allied health professions. 

    With only 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States, UNC would be joining a select group of DO schools that would presumably attract students from not just Colorado and the region, but across the country.  

  • How would the Greeley community at large benefit from an osteopathic medical school? 

    UNC is an economic engine not just for Greeley, but also for Weld County, the Northern Colorado region, and the State of Colorado. The university’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. As has been true for 132 years, when UNC succeeds, our communities succeed, and vice versa.  

    Specifically, the Greeley community and 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. A new medical school will also have a positive economic and social impact on these communities by supporting social mobility and economic prosperity through an increase in good paying jobs, including additional doctors and a wide range of other jobs and industries needed to support an already strong and growing health care industry locally. 

  • 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 schools receive Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., degrees. Graduates of osteopathic schools 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.  

  • Where would the medical school be housed (organizationally and physically)? 

    Because UNC is still in the exploratory phase of the process, that has not yet been determined. 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.  

  • What are the key decision points to determine if/how the project will move forward? 
    • Assessment of the results from the feasibility study 
    • Assessment of the feedback from the university community following the town hall 
    • Approval from the Board of Trustees to proceed with an application for accreditation  
    • Statutory changes necessary to authorize UNC to have a public medical school 
    • Clinical placements secured with Banner Health and UC Health 
    • Needing to raise approximately $135 million in start-up funding and the facilities to support it 
  • 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. A generous donor committed to support the project in its initial phase. Once the osteopathic medical school has been established, we believe that the program will generate enough revenue to be self-supporting. 

  • What is the expected total start-up cost? 

    The start-up costs required to create an osteopathic medical school at UNC are projected to be approximately $135 million—which are roughly evenly divided among the cost of new facilities, wide-ranging expenses associated with pursuing accreditation and preparing to educate students such as hiring a founding dean and building the faculty and staff necessary to support the program, and the need for an escrow account that would pay to teach out the first cohort in the event the program does not succeed 

  • What were the results of the feasibility study conducted? 
  • What were the key findings of the feasibility study? 

    1) The State of Colorado is in critical need of more physicians due to increased population and an aging physician workforce. 

    2) Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing healthcare professions in the country. 

    3) The development of an osteopathic medical school will have a positive impact on other health science programs at UNC.  

    4) Opportunities exist for developing and expanding clinical training sites and graduate medical education in Colorado and neighboring states.  

    5) The local community is supportive of UNC developing a four-year osteopathic medical school.  

    6) An osteopathic medical school will be a driver of the regional economy, creating jobs and generating significant economic and social impacts to the state of Colorado. 

  • How is this medical school 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 school 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, the overwhelming majority of faculty and staff will not be asked to divert their attention from their critical ongoing work to support this project. If the Board of Trustees approves the university to move forward with the hiring of a Founding Dean, that individual will be overseeing all of the work that will go into creating the school, curriculum for the program, and 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 progressesThcosts associated with the hiring of personnel at the medical school are included in the overall financial calculations 

  • A few years ago, UNC began to pursue creating an osteopathic medical but then stopped. What makes this pursuit different and why now? 

    Shortly before President Feinstein joined UNC in July of 2018, there was discussion about the possibility of creating an osteopathic medical school at UNC run by a for-profit entity. At the time, when assessing the university’s most critical needs, President Feinstein determined it was not the right time to pursue the opportunity. In the spring of 2021, conversations began to reemerge with leaders of local hospital systems and community leaders that led President Feinstein to determine now was the appropriate time to revisit the possibility of creating a medical school.  

    UNC’s current plans for creating an osteopathic medical school do not involve partnering with a for-profit entity. The current vision is for the medical school to be owned and operated by the university, serving as an extension of our organizational structure and helping to support the greater mission of the institution.

  • 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.

Communications

Read more about the latest developments related to UNC's exploration into creating an osteopathic medical school.

July 19, 2021

Message to UNC community – UNC to Conduct Feasibility Study Looking Into Osteopathic Medical School

November 8, 2021

Message to UNC community – An Update on UNC's Exploration into Developing an Osteopathic Medical School

November 14, 2021

Op-Ed in Greeley Tribune Working to Fill a Vital Need in our Community, State

November 15, 2021

Press Release – UNC Moving Forward with Next Steps in Pursuit of Osteopathic Medical School