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IPFW med school’s fate an issue

July 17th, 2016

Realignment plan, if adopted, would expand its role

By RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

Amid the controversy that has surrounded IPFW’s future in recent months is a building on campus that largely flies under the radar.

The Indiana University School of Medicine in Fort Wayne sits on the far north side of the campus and operates separately from the rest of IPFW. While it has quietly educated future doctors for decades, its profile could broaden if proposals to realign IPFW are realized.

A legislative-initiated report released in January that foresees a change in how IPFW is governed proposes a new health science center that would include the medical and nursing schools. An education center next to the medical school would have students from various medical disciplines training together.

While the medical school has been up and running since the early 1980s, it is a hidden gem “that a whole lot of people outside of the medical school don’t know about,” said Dr. Brenda O’Hara, a Fort Wayne physician who attended the school in 1982-83.

“I was a single mother and I had parents in town I knew that would help me with child care,” O’Hara said of the draw the school had for her then. “Plus I was in no hurry to go to a big campus.”

IPFW is governed by IU and Purdue through a joint agreement. Last month that agreement was extended through June 30, 2021, with a revised governance proposal to be presented to IU and Purdue trustees in December.

If that proposal follows the legislative study findings, two separate schools could emerge. IU would maintain control of the School of Medicine and enhance its health science and medical education offerings, including taking over nursing, which is now under Purdue. Purdue would control other course offerings with an expanded focus on biomedical engineering and advanced manufacturing.

IU declined to make a Fort Wayne medical school administrator available for an interview. IU spokesman Mark Land said in an email response “it would be premature and purely speculative to discuss at this time how a new structure might affect the medical school.”

Both local health networks, Lutheran and Parkview, praise it as a source of local physicians and for continuing education.

In May, 10 students graduated from the program, according to Holly Vonderheit, a spokeswoman for the Indiana University School of Medicine, a system of nine schools statewide. The Indianapolis campus, the largest, graduated 260 students. In total, the system graduated 321 doctors this year.

In Fort Wayne, 85 students are enrolled in the medical school for fall classes, Vonerheit said. Primary areas of study vary, but the first three years consist of courses all students must take. During the fourth year students choose seven elective courses in varying disciplines. Graduates enter residency programs in their chosen fields.

Generally, one or two of the graduating students elect to complete family medicine residency training through the Fort Wayne Medical Education Program, Vonerheit said. It is the only residency program in the area. The rest of the graduates attend residency programs throughout the state or in other areas of the country.

About 75 graduates from the Fort Wayne campus practice locally, Vonerheit added.

Fort Wayne cardiologist Dr. Michael Mirro has been pushing for the expansion as an Indiana University trustee.

“IU really wants to do something that it really can make a statement for northeast Indiana,” said Mirro, who talked about the medical school and proposals for IPFW’s future in an interview last month.

Mirro is chief academic and research officer at Parkview Health and heads the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation. He was a member of the working group from IU, Purdue University and IPFW that produced the legislative study.

As Mirro sees it, a new health science center would have the school of medicine, transition the school of nursing to IU and offer new degrees in public health, physical therapy and occupational therapy. The current dental hygienist and dental assistant programs would be included and a dental outpatient clinic would be created.

The new medical complex would attract more students from outside northeast Indiana, which translates to more people putting down roots here, Mirro said.

“Because one of the things we’re all interested in is how do we get young professionals to locate to northeast Indiana, particularly dentists, physicians, to serve our population,” he said. “So, the best way you can do that is have enhanced postgraduate training programs in those disciplines.”

While he works for Parkview, Mirro said he doesn’t want the medical school tied to one health system. Both hospitals would need to be “completely engaged” with the enhanced school, he said.

Parkview issued a statement in support of the school, calling it “critical for workforce development at Parkview and in the medical community as a whole, particularly to get clinicians to locate in rural areas and create greater patient access.

Parkview leaders want students to be excited about obtaining the best patient outcomes and working in the field they are most interested in, in hopes they will eventually practice in our communities.”

Lutheran Health Network CEO Brian Bauer said the community is fortunate to have the medical school.

“Many of our physicians have a passion for teaching and mentoring, so this allows them to fulfill that need close to home,” he said in an email statement. “Their involvement in teaching ends up helping all boats rise. By being involved in the medical school, our physicians are also able to keep up with all the latest trends in patient care.”

O’Hara, 64, said she was in the second graduating class at the school. Then it offered first-year classes only. Most students finished in Indianapolis.

After spending most of her career in medical education she currently works for Parkview Physicians Group, which runs employee health clinics for several school systems.

“I think the biggest endorsement, I guess, or advertisement for the school of medicine is so many Fort Wayne physicians’ children have gone through there,” she said. “You know physicians themselves are going to want their kids to have the best education possible.”