Growing the Healthcare Workforce

Dr. Sara Rusch, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria

Nearly 50 years after the Peoria campus opened its doors with 18 second-year medical students, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) will expand to educate students across all four years of medical school. Currently, Peoria educates students during their second through fourth years. This important addition will immediately require UICOMP to recruit additional faculty, but even more exciting will be the positive long-term effects on the delivery of healthcare in Peoria.

Expanding the Pipeline
We expect the initial class of 55 to 60 first-year medical students—what we call M1s—to start in the fall of 2017, bringing our total annual enrollment to more than 225 students. This is a great challenge, as it means we must hire additional faculty and renovate portions of the existing building over the next 22 months, but it also offers the opportunity to transform the overall medical curriculum and better shape our future doctors as compassionate caregivers.

We believe a four-year school will recruit medical students who are more likely to remain in downstate Illinois and fill the physician needs of our communities. Already, one in four area physicians completed their residency training at UICOMP and our affiliated hospitals. We think we can do even better. In addition, by reaching students in their first year, we anticipate enhancing special educational tracks that encourage students to practice in underserved and rural areas.

Our students have the opportunity to apply for one of our medical residencies affiliated with OSF or UnityPoint Health. Many of them choose primary care disciplines, but it is possible to spend as many as 11 consecutive years (post-college) in Peoria obtaining a medical education. You could be trained as a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, stroke specialist or women’s health specialist—as well as everything from a pediatrician to a neurosurgeon to a psychiatrist—all without leaving Peoria.

Why is all this education important? On a personal level, we all want access to excellent, comprehensive primary and specialty care close to home. At the community level, healthcare is now the number-one employer in the Peoria area, having surpassed manufacturing. Nearly one in five area jobs—18 percent—is tied to healthcare, according to a recent study by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. UICOMP is a key part of training the physicians who provide personal patient care and power the healthcare economy.

Building on Success
Four years ago this December, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria opened a new cancer research building. Its construction was the result of funding from a public-private partnership, as well as philanthropy. This state-of-the-art research laboratory has allowed UICOMP to recruit new researchers who are bringing innovative research methods to Peoria, adding to our already successful programs. UICOMP’s new senior associate dean for research, Dr. M. Bento Soares, is an internationally renowned epigeneticist, most recently at Northwestern University. He is recruiting for four areas of cancer research: cancer microbiomics, cancer immunology, cancer metabolism and cancer computational genomics. This will complement existing research in our building, at our partner hospitals and at Illinois CancerCare.

The addition of the M1 year to this campus creates great synergy with our growing research enterprise, since both current and soon-to-be recruited researchers will have opportunities to teach in the M1 year, and the additional new faculty will be able to contribute to the research enterprise. Our mission at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is to lead collaboration to improve health. Our vision is to make measurable improvements in personal and population health through integrated innovative research, education and patient care programs. We continue to grow to meet this mission and vision. iBi

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