Indiana University of Pennsylvania may open the state’s first school of osteopathic medicine at a public university, an initiative to train and graduate professionals to improve rural health and advance Pennsylvania’s economy.
A resolution that would authorize the state-owned university, part of the state system of higher education, to explore possible development of the school is scheduled to go before IUP’s Board of Trustees later Thursday for consideration.
Officials say the initiative will help address a pronounced national shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas, noting that qualified medical students outside the United States have available slots at medical schools.
They noted that 57% of doctors of osteopathic medicine practice primary care medicine and one in five work in rural communities.
IUP Trustee Chair Samuel Smith was in advance of Thursday’s public session and was not immediately available. University officials also had no immediate comment.
Building the school would involve a lengthy approval process for accreditation and a significant influx of outside funding currently available to IUP. State system leadership as well as campus officials may revisit the idea during the investigation, the resolution said.
It also pointed to an array of potential benefits.
Currently in Pennsylvania, there are only schools of osteopathic medicine on private campuses, including one under construction at Duquesne University. Catholic university officials said they hope to enroll the first students there in August 2023, and Duquesne President Ken Gormley also pointed to a shortage of family practice doctors.
“There shall be no school or college of osteopathic medicine at a public university in Pennsylvania,” the IUP resolution states. “Osteopathic medicine at IUP will provide an affordable pathway for pre-medical students in Pennsylvania’s higher education system, who may remain in Pennsylvania to practice professionally.”
It noted that “IUP is one of only 93 public universities in the United States with a high research activity designation (and) strong existing science and health programs, 30 percent of its students enrolled in STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and health.” Science) majors.”
It also says IUP has a strong and growing partnership with “Indiana Regional Medical Center, a strong, independent rural hospital.”
Officials say the idea is consistent with the state system’s mission, as stated in Act 188, which in 1983 created state-owned universities from a collection of state colleges.
State system officials, including Chancellor Daniel Greenstein, have cited the need to develop new high-demand programs in areas that benefit the commonwealth and — by extension — could help universities, including IUP, reverse a decade-long enrollment decline.
Currently, the 10 state-owned universities have a total enrollment of 84,556, down about 29% from a peak of about 120,000 students in 2010. As in other regional systems, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, this trend has been driven at least in part by low high school graduation rates, a rapidly changing higher education market, and costs.
In addition to IUP, the 10 state-owned universities include Pennwest University and Slippery Rock in Western Pennsylvania, as well as Cheyney, Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg, and West Chester.