USC, GHS boards approve program expansion
The University of South Carolina Board of Trustees took action Friday (Aug. 6) to address the state’s growing shortage of primary-care physicians and improve access to health care in the Palmetto State.
The board approved a plan to expand medical education in Greenville and announced plans to explore opportunities with Palmetto Health to increase capacity for training more physicians at the School of Medicine in Columbia.
The Greenville expansion of USC’s medical-education program will be at the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center, which has been a campus of the USC School of Medicine since 1991.
Earlier Friday, the GHS board also approved the expanded program, which must be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
The initiative builds on a partnership that has been in place since 1991. That partnership allows third- and fourth-year USC medical students to complete their final two years of education at GHS. Under the proposed expansion, approximately 40 students anually will be able to spend all four years of their medical training at GHS as early as 2012. That number is expected to grow.USC also announced plans to work with Palmetto Health to increase the number of medical students trained at the USC School of Medicine campus in Columbia.
USC President Harris Pastides said the actions will address a critical shortage of primary-care physicians in the state.
“We must take immediate steps to produce more physicians of excellence to offset a growing healthcare crisis in our state,” Pastides said. “Thus, we are very excited to announce an agreement to expand our programs in Greenville and to work with the Palmetto Health healthcare system to add as many additional physicians schooled in the Midlands as possible.”
Michael C. Riordan, president and CEO of GHS, said the expanded program in Greenville will help mitigate the long-standing physician shortage in the state and improve healthcare across South Carolina, particularly rural areas. The program will also spur job growth, increase per-capita income and help make the state more attractive to corporations considering expansion or relocation.
“Having an adequate number of highly trained physicians is critical to our ability to deliver quality healthcare,” Riordan said. “As one of the largest health systems in the region working in close partnership with USC, it is our responsibility to anticipate the future healthcare needs of our community and address them.”
Charles D. Beaman Jr., CEO of Palmetto Health, said the proposed expansion offers the best chance for addressing the state’s future medical needs.
“As the largest health system in central South Carolina and with more than 30 years invested in the education of physicians, Palmetto Health applauds efforts being made by the University of South Carolina and Greenville Hospital System to increase the number of physicians, especially primary care, being educated in our state,” Beaman said.
“Additionally, we are committed to exploring the expansion of the USC School of Medicine here in Columbia with President Harris Pastides and Dean Richard Hoppmann. I believe that an expanded medical school here as well as an expanded medical program in Greenville, should it be established, will offer the best chance for South Carolina to address the future medical needs of our citizens. Palmetto Health is eager to partner with USC to assure that it can happen.”
Education has always been an integral part of GHS’ mission. In fact, GHS accepted its first nursing student just three days after its original Greenville General Hospital opened its doors in 1912. In the nearly 100 years that have followed, GHS has helped train thousands of physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
“We’re proud of our almost 20-year partnership with USC School of Medicine and look forward to continuing it so that we can help our region meet the healthcare challenges ahead of it,” Riordan said.
USC Provost Michael Amiridis said the expansion in Greenville complements USC’s efforts to increase access to healthcare.
“Expanding the medical-education program in Greenville complements USC’s initiatives to provide more healthcare professionals, from nursing and pharmacy to social work and public health, for South Carolina,” Amiridis said.
In recent years, USC has increased the number of undergraduate nursing majors through its eight-campus system, implemented new bachelor’s-degree programs in the Arnold School of Public Health and in social work, and integrated its pharmacy-education program with one at the Medical University of South Carolina to establish the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, which has already expanded its statewide mission. Approximately 25 SCCP students receive some of their training at GHS during their fourth year.
According to an August 2010 article in The Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association, South Carolina’s capacity for educating physicians has not kept pace with the state’s needs, and the state ranks 43rd in the number of primary-care physicians per 100,000 residents.
Written by former USC President Andrew A. Sorensen, the article cites data from the Association of American Medical Colleges showing that the per-capita rate of first-year medical students dropped from 5.96 per 100,000 in 1994 to 5.47 per 100,000 in 2008. In contrast, the Southeastern average is 5.56, and the national average is 5.86.
Amiridis said the expanded medical-education program will feature innovative teaching practices, including sending students to community primary-care settings earlier to expose them to patient care. The program will have a dean who will report to the provost in Columbia.
USC and GHS officials said the launch of the expansion will not be financed with state funds and instead will be funded by GHS and by future-student tuition. Dr. Jerry Youkey, vice president for medical and academic services at GHS, said expanding the program at GHS is cost-effective because substantial infrastructure, including clinical faculty through its University Medical Group and 98,000 square feet of medical-education facilities, is already in place at the GHS campus.
Pastides said all those factors entered into the decision to expand in Greenville.
“This in no way represents a diminution of our commitment to our fine medical school in Columbia,” Pastides said. “In fact, the expansion in Greenville and Columbia is an endorsement of its outstanding tradition of educating primary-care physicians.”
Pastides said the expanded programs in Columbia and Greenville will emphasize the primary-care fields, including family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry, and focus on recruiting South Carolinians and encouraging them to remain in the state and practice in underserved rural areas.
“Increasingly, our school and the Medical University of South Carolina have had to turn away qualified applicants,” Pastides said. “Those applicants either abandon their plans for medical school or go elsewhere. Either way, our state loses a pool of potential physicians, and we cannot afford to let that continue.”