Gov. Timothy M. Kaine joined Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger and Carilion CEO Dr. Edward G. Murphy Wednesday to announce the creation of a new medical school in Virginia. Virginia Tech and Carilion will create a jointly operated private medical school, located in downtown Roanoke, adjacent to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

"I am very pleased to support this important initiative to help meet the health workforce and medical research needs of our state, as well as to strengthen the economy of the region," Gov. Kaine said.

"This will be a great asset for the medical community and the region," said Murphy. "It will make the area more attractive for doctors we’re recruiting now, and increase the number of doctors who are likely to stay in the area after their medical training."

Key facts and statistics related to the new school are posted online, as is a site plan (PDF) showing the future location.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), 30 million people are currently affected by physician shortages, including many communities across Virginia. Critical shortages are expected by 2020, unless medical school enrollment increases by 30 percent. With only half of U.S. medical schools even considering enrollment expansion, AAMC concludes that new medical schools must be created.

Patterned after Harvard Medical School’s Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program and Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine, the new school will have a small class size and be dedicated to training physician researchers. Class size is projected to be 40 students per year. In addition to a traditional medical school curriculum, all students will receive training in research methods, conduct original research and write a thesis as a condition of graduation. To accommodate the expanded graduation requirements, the school will have a five year curriculum instead of the traditional four year curriculum.

[Ed. Note: After evaluating the program, VTC educators elected to establish a four year curriculum. However, students will produce a research project of publishable caliber as a requirement of graduation.]

The combination of a medical school and research institute on the campus of a major medical center will move Virginia Tech closer to its goal of becoming one of the country’s top 30 research universities. The school and research institute will also provide valuable support to Carilion’s conversion to a clinic model.

"Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked research program and our close association with Carilion create a unique opportunity," said Steger. "We can create a respected medical education program that will improve the region’s healthcare, generate economic growth and enhance the overall research profile of the university."

Research will be a key component of the school’s curriculum; with the goal of training physicians who want to make research part of their medical career. Virginia Tech’s partnership with Carilion provides opportunities to expand important research programs at Virginia Tech, including: bioinformatics, computer science, and engineering, along with epidemiology, health services, basic sciences and clinical research. Students will have the option of earning a master’s degree at the same time they complete their medical training. This curriculum will also put a Ph.D. within reach for students who would like to pursue one.

According to Murphy, "Our graduates will make a unique and special contribution to any medical specialty they choose."

The presence of a medical school on the Carilion Clinic campus will add to the growing South Jefferson corridor and further efforts to build a robust and exciting economic climate in downtown Roanoke. The school will be co-located with the future Virginia Tech-Carilion Medical Research Institute, in close proximity to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, the Jefferson College of Health Sciences, and the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

The school will bring economic benefits to the entire region. According to an AAMC study, every dollar spent by a medical school or teaching hospital creates an additional $1.30 in economic activity. Even though most AAMC schools are not-for-profit and tax exempt, economic activity associated with the schools generated $14.7 billion in state tax revenue.

Eastern Virginia Medical School and its affiliated hospitals contribute $923 million to the state’s economy. Penn State College of Medicine and its affiliated medical center had a $613 million statewide economic impact in 2002. Ohio’s seven medical schools and affiliated teaching hospitals had a $20 billion impact on state business volume.

One of the country’s newest medical schools will open at Florida International University in 2008. A recently commissioned economic impact study determined that the school would generate a $58 million economic impact in its first year of operation and grow to $1.1 billion in less than 20 years. The school is expected to generate more than 11,000 new jobs and contribute $22 million annually to the local tax base.

Although the school’s financial plan is not yet finalized, Carilion and Virginia Tech are in a unique position to develop a cost effective, financially self-sustaining school. The key academic infrastructure needed for a medical school is already in place at Virginia Tech and Carilion. Virginia Tech currently teaches most of the basic science courses needed for a medical school curriculum.

Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital have been part of a strong and successful medical education program for more than 50 years. Carilion currently sponsors seven medical residency programs with more than 100 full-time faculty physicians. Virginia Tech and Carilion will rely on current resources plus tuition to meet the new school’s operating needs. Philanthropic gifts are anticipated to fund future programs.

Construction on the medical school and research building will begin in early 2008 with the school welcoming its inaugural class in 2009 or 2010.

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