An Expanding College of Medicine

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

While the expansion is exciting, what really matters are the wonderful opportunities it will create.

Come August, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria will welcome 55 first-year medical students to the Peoria campus—the first time in our nearly 50-year history that students will spend all four years of their medical school education on the Peoria campus.

This expansion will cost more than $3 million in startup and remodeling costs. The campus will then receive $1.75 million annually to support the faculty and staff needed to educate the additional students. The direct and indirect economic impact of this expansion is estimated to be more than $2.6 million annually to our local economy. Moreover, we believe this expansion will have an even greater impact on our community’s ability to retain and attract future physicians in central Illinois.

We are also expanding the physical footprint of the campus. The University of Illinois Foundation purchased about three acres of adjacent land, which previously held the Bob Michel Outpatient VA Clinic, at a significantly discounted price. In turn, the donors of the property will realize a gift value for the difference between the discounted sale price and the appraised value. UICOMP has long desired this land, and the donors are supporters of the College of Medicine in Peoria. The student expansion created a unique opportunity to execute a gift that addresses UICOMP’s needs for parking for our expanded classes. It also gives the College an important asset for future growth.

New Opportunities
While the expansion is exciting, what really matters are the wonderful opportunities the expansion creates. In Peoria, healthcare is a vital part of our economy, as well as essential to maintaining the physical and mental well-being of our community. We are using this expansion to transform the curriculum to better train physicians who will provide exceptional care and meet the needs of our healthcare partners and our surrounding communities.

One area of enhanced focus is the need for physicians in our surrounding rural communities. The College of Medicine recently received a phone call from a woman living in a small Illinois town of about 1,200 people. The town’s only doctor was soon to retire, and there wasn’t a physician to take his place, leaving the community without accessible healthcare. Unfortunately, this scenario is taking place across the country.

About 20 percent of Americans live outside of urban areas, but only nine percent of physicians do, making the nationwide physician shortage even more severe in our rural communities. UICOMP already has a small, but successful Rural Student Physician Program that prepares students to practice in smaller communities. We plan to increase and strengthen our rural programs, adding a rural-global medicine track across our newly-expanded four years of medical school to help address rural healthcare needs.

Our expansion is not just occurring at the student level. In July, in partnership with OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, we will also expand our physician training with the addition of a fellowship in pulmonology critical care. These physician specialists are primarily responsible for diagnosing and treating the hospital’s sickest patients, including those in the intensive care units.

Partner Support
All this expansion would not be possible without the support of our clinical partners. Last month, we announced OSF HealthCare’s support of the College of Medicine through a $1 million gift, with $750,000 supporting the Peoria campus and $250,000 supporting the expansion on the College of Medicine’s Rockford campus where OSF Saint Anthony’s is located. In addition, UnityPoint Health – Peoria is gifting $100,000 to support UICOMP’s expansion. Many of our faculty, alumni and friends of the College also have been generous in their support.

With this support, construction is already underway on our downtown campus. Facility upgrades include a technology-rich classroom designed for “team-based learning,” which will be named the OSF HealthCare Learning Studio in appreciation of their generous support for medical education. A student oasis named in recognition of UnityPoint Health will provide medical students with study and relaxation space. A new anatomy laboratory for cadaver and technology-assisted training is also under construction. We couldn’t be more thankful.

You, too, can play an important role in our growing medical school. Please help us welcome our growing family of students to the community, and join us next spring when we open the renovated portions of our building. As a patient, if your physician is accompanied by a medical student, please thank your physician for teaching the next generation of physicians. The College of Medicine depends on the support of our community as it pursues its mission to “lead collaboration to improve health.” iBi

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