OU-Beaumont Medical School has Hands-on Way of Training Doctors

OU-Beaumont Medical School has Hands-on Way of Training Doctors

July 6, 2010/Detroit Free Press


By Patricia Anstett and Robin Erb


Students at the new Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine won't be spending most of their first two years in lecture halls listening to traditional topics such as anatomy and physiology.


Instead, their priorities will be doing mandatory community service projects, receiving lessons on nutrition and wellness and talking to patients or practicing examination skills on lifelike mannequins.


That's distinctly different from the way physicians have been trained, and those changes will set OU-Beaumont apart from Michigan's four other medical schools, its founding leaders say.


So will its tuition and entrance requirements.


As a private school that has pledged to take no state funding, Beaumont will cost $42,760 a year in tuition and fees, about $16,000 more than Michigan's four other medical schools. It also will not require applicants to have a minimum grade point average or score on a national medical school entrance exam.


Dr. Robert Folberg, the school's founding dean, wants learning to be grounded in practical concepts.


"A student treated like a number is likely to treat patients like a number," he said.


Goal: Better doctors


Beth Tenney's future might be here -- at Michigan's newest medical school, where she hopes to be one of the first 50 students.


The school's newness, in fact, is a big selling point for Tenney, 21, of Grand Rapids.


"They almost have to do a better job because they'll need to prove themselves," said Tenney, who is drawn to medicine because of a brother's childhood illness and her love of science.


The charter class at OU-Beaumont, on OU's campus, which straddles the Auburn Hills-Rochester Hills border, begins in August 2011.


OU-Beaumont is the state's first private medical school. Tuition and fees will be $42,760 a year -- much more than at Michigan's other medical schools.


What all that money buys


In return, the school promises a diverse education to train the doctors of tomorrow -- ones who will be better team players, listeners and communicators and who will be able to move beyond textbook definitions of illness to understand other health and personal issues a person faces, said Dr. Robert Folberg, the school's founding dean.


Many existing schools are changing coursework and introducing students earlier to patient care, said Brownell Anderson, senior director of educational affairs at the American Association of Medical Colleges, which oversees medical education issues.


But new schools like OU-Beaumont are not wedded to teaching subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry in conventional ways, Anderson said. Instead, courses at OU-Beaumont will be broader and tie in problems such as obesity and diabetes, said Anderson, who met with leaders at OU-Beaumont and other new schools in June.


"Part of what the new schools are looking at is graduating a different kind of physician," she said. "It all comes together to create the physician we need to serve the population of the next century" -- one that is older and likely to have more chronic conditions, she said.


A different kind of med school


Because OU-Beaumont is private, it will receive no state money for medical education. It will be an allopathic medical school, meaning it will focus on scientific and research-based conventional approaches to medicine, instead of on the body's muscles and bone systems, as osteopathic schools do.


Students will take most of their classes the first two years at OU, then serve rotations at one of Beaumont's hospitals in Royal Oak, Troy or Grosse Pointe.


OU-Beaumont's inaugural class of 50 is expected to grow to 125 by the school's fourth year. To find more well-rounded students, the school won't insist on minimum grade point averages or scores on a national medical school entrance exam, as many medical schools do.


Still, the application process will be highly competitive. Hundreds are likely to apply. Nationwide, only about half of all medical school applicants are accepted, Folberg said.


He has spent two years building a leadership team, developing a curriculum and overseeing the renovation of O'Dowd Hall, which will house the school in the center of campus. The school will find its own niche among other medical schools, he said.


"We don't see each other as competitors," said Folberg, who said he talks regularly with Michigan's other medical school deans. Still, the school hopes to better define how it will be different from other medical schools. "Part of what we are struggling with is the sound bite about what makes us special."


For now, the school is playing up its ties to Beaumont and its doctors, who have been the centerpiece of the hospital system's successful advertising campaign, "Do you have a Beaumont doctor?" This week, it posted a www.youtube.com/watch?v=K34DoXDz_Ps on YouTube emphasizing its ties to Beaumont's staff.


Funding presents a challenge


While they sift through applicants, finalize the curriculum and raise money for scholarships, school leaders must sort out the final business plan, too.


A potentially sticky issue is how Beaumont will pay doctors who teach and oversee students' training. The problem has caused difficulties as health systems try to shave costs and medical schools look for ways to reimburse doctors who take on responsibilities beyond usual hospital duties.


"It's an issue that's on the table," said Nick Vitale, vice president of finance at Beaumont Hospitals. Because most of the medical students won't work at Beaumont hospitals until their third year at the school, Beaumont has time to study payment strategies elsewhere and come up with a reasonable way to address the issue, Vitale said.


OU-Beaumont has raised $25 million to date, but is likely to need much more.


Dr. Mark Kelley, medical director of the Henry Ford Health System Medical Group, said the school's plan not to accept state funds will put more pressure on Beaumont to find ways to pay for it. Tuition, he said, "almost never covers the cost of medical education. So they'll need a subsidy from Beaumont or have to find the money somewhere else," such as through philanthropy or grants, he said.


Already, school is a standout


A presentation for prospective OU-Beaumont students won over Mohammad Wadud, a University of Detroit Mercy senior.


Wadud of Sterling Heights said he'll apply to about a dozen schools, but OU-Beaumont has moved to the top of his list, in part because it promises to "integrate things a lot more -- the clinical settings with the classroom."


"As soon as I walked in, the environment looked friendly; the staff was friendly. It did seem different from what I've heard from other medical schools," he said.


Contact ROBIN ERB: 313-222-2708 or rerb@freepress.com


More medical schools planned in Michigan


When the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine opens in 2011, it will be Michigan's fifth medical school -- joining schools at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, which has two schools. Two others are in the planning process.


Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant are in the process of applying for preliminary accreditation.


Both plan to open in 2012.


CMU leaders have specifically said they want to focus on training primary care physicians for central and upper Michigan.


A spokesman for WMU told the Free Press last week that the university is still refining its focus.