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June 14th, 2021

khsc renderingA rendering of the upcoming Kansas Health Science Center – Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine currently under construction in Wichita. A goal of the facility is to provide another option for students wishing to go to medical school in state. Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Healthcare services in rural communities has been a hot topic for several years now, and with the current COVID-19 pandemic, providing healthcare in those areas has become even more of a must. 

To help with just that, the  Kansas Health Science Center – Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (KHSC-KansasCOM) is currently being built to help train another generation of healthcare providers. According to Dr. Joel Dickerman, dean and chief academic officer for KHSC, the process of getting the new facility up and running in Wichita has been a few years’ coming. 

“It all started in 2018 and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a Health Professional Underserved Areas Report on the issue,” Dickerman said. “It had been shown in 2017, there were 161 primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in Kansas and out of the state’s 105 counties, 92 are considered partially or wholly underserved and to fill this void, rural parts of Kansas need 83 new primary care physicians each year. That need is the driving force behind the proposed Kansas Health Science Center – Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (KHSC-KansasCOM), which is currently under construction in Wichita. We were recently granted candidate status, which is a giant step toward our goal of opening in 2022. It’s something that’s been in the works for a long time. There had been talk about putting this in Wichita and then sometime afterward is when we went through the application process with grants and things like that. Then construction started late last year, and it’s more remodeling than construction because the building was already there and we needed to modify it to what we needed.”

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Having the facility up and running will be a great benefit, Dickerman said. 

“Especially in the more rural areas, we know there’s going to be a physician shortage in the coming years, it’s something that’s been happening for a while and all throughout the U.S., there’s a shortage of healthcare personnel, especially in the rural areas because those areas have difficulty recruiting good healthcare providers,” Dickerman said. “We want to help mitigate that shortage, so we decided to make this school available in Wichita and we want to be able to have more students in our program and that way they can be in school and do the necessary coursework while still here in Kansas and not have to go to an out-of-state school. We also want our students to get that community-based exposure, particularly in their second year, and our goal is to help us connect to communities and community organizations to solve the problem of physicians being needed. We’re in Wichita but we would like to have students from Southwest Kansas and other parts of Western Kansas so they can go back to those areas and be healthcare providers.”

Dickerman added reaching this point is very gratifying.

“It feels really great. You have to make candidate status before you can move on to the next step, so it’s great we were able to achieve that, and it’s a good step toward our goal of being ready by 2022,” Dickerman said. “We’re really working to identify community colleges like Seward County Community College in Liberal and other schools like that who might be interested in working with us because those schools are the jumping off point for a lot of students, and we want to be that next step in their education. We’ve been reaching out to communities and community colleges and other healthcare entities about us, and that’s been a good start. With COVID-19 going on, this is a good time for people to be entering the healthcare field and with us opening and being somewhat local for a lot of people, it just makes sense for them to check us and our program out. I look forward to continuing that outreach to communities because again, we want to help get healthcare providers to those areas of the state that are underserved, because everyone needs and deserves easy access to healthcare when they need it.”

With the new facility being available, Dickerman said he hopes many rural communities will be able to have the care needed. 

“It’s a great opportunity for medical providers to get involved with something like this who haven’t been and it can also provide an opportunity for those providers to connect with our students,” Dickerman said. “I think it will help a lot of rural healthcare entities, and especially in the rural areas, there might be that feeling of isolation, which I can somewhat attest to because I have worked in some of those places. I also think it will help expose more students to the medical field, which, again, with COVID-19 going on right now and with future needs, is something we’ll need. I think it’s going to open the chance up to a lot of students who are thinking about going to medical school, and it will allow them to stay in state at the same time. It’s about exposing students to community-based care and showing them how necessary healthcare is in those areas. It’s also a great opportunity to offer more services in healthcare, which I think might give more drive to those interested in healthcare to set up in those communities so they don’t have to drive all the way to Amarillo or Oklahoma City for certain specialized services.”

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