Creighton-St. Joseph

July 7, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

Creighton University in Omaha wants new clinical opportunities for its medical students. St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix wants to expand services for its patients. And Arizona wants to boost the number of doctors who practice in the state.

“It is a win-win for everyone,” said Creighton University President John P. Schlegel, S.J., describing the academic affiliation announced by Creighton and St. Joseph’s that will bring nearly 30 percent of Creighton’s medical students to Phoenix for two years of clinical studies. Since 2005, a handful of Creighton medical-school students have been coming to St. Joseph’s for one-month rotations.

Under the new agreement, 42 third-year Creighton students will arrive in 2012, followed by the same number in 2013, for a total of 84 students on the new campus, which will be known formally as the Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. The campus will be supported by an associate dean from Creighton and several administrative support staff, but the students’ primary faculty instructors will be doctors and other medical personnel at St. Joseph’s.

“Our new partnership with Creighton will fill a vital need for educational experiences and physician training, and it will provide numerous possibilities regarding collaborative research projects,” said Linda Hunt, service area president for Catholic Healthcare West Arizona.

A physician shortage–and a shortage of clinical sites

Rowen Zetterman, dean of Creighton’s medical school, said in the Omaha World-Herald that Creighton is trying to answer the call of the Association of American Medical Colleges, which recommended in 2006 that U.S. medical schools boost their enrollments by 30 percent.

Arizona’s shortage of physicians–even more pronounced than the ongoing nationwide squeeze–has prompted health-care leaders in the state to scramble for ways to increase the number of medical students and residents who learn their craft in Arizona. The establishment of the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University has been seen as part of the answer, though tight state funding has delayed build-out of the new campus and expansion of the medical school class there.

Creighton officials have been grappling with a problem that is almost the opposite of what Arizona is facing: Omaha, home of the Jesuit university, is also home to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, making it the nation’s smallest city with two medical schools, said Robert Heaney, Creighton’s interim vice president for health sciences, in the World-Herald.

As a result, Creighton has struggled to find enough clinical sites for its students. The agreement with St. Joseph’s will ease that crunch, in fact enabling Creighton to increase its entering medical-school class from 126 to 152, starting in 2010. St. Joseph’s Hospital has more than twice as many beds as Creighton University Medical Center, one of four clinical training sites that currently host Creighton medical students.

“This academic affiliation strengthens both institutions, assures quality health care, and continues our long-term traditions of academic excellence and devotion to service as well as a commitment to Catholic values and traditions,” said Dr. Schlegel. “Both Creighton and St. Joseph’s believe it is important that students in the western United States have regional access to a Catholic-based medical education.”

Upon its establishment, the Creighton campus at St. Joseph’s will be the westernmost medical-school campus affiliated with a Catholic university.

“We think it is a wonderful opportunity to continue our faith-based mission here with a partner that has a similar mission, values and core beliefs as us,” said John Boyd, St. Joseph’s chief medical officer, in the Arizona Republic.

Encouraging new doctors to stay in Arizona

“Another private medical school in downtown Phoenix adds excitement,” Hunt added in the Republic. “It gives us the ability to educate more physicians for the Southwest.” She noted that officials of Catholic Healthcare West, the hospital group to which St. Joseph’s belongs, have been working on the deal for four years.

“This will be their education home,” Dr. Boyd said. “Our hope would be that after their clerkships, they stay in the area to do their residency training, and then they have a much higher potential to stay in the area to practice medicine.”

Tony Mitten, chief executive of the Maricopa County Medical Society, affirmed that objective. “Anytime you can bring in some residents or interns, it helps, and that is a big number of students to bring in,” he said in the Republic. “The question is: ‘Will these students and residents stay here?'”

Hunt said that the affiliation with Creighton will not end St. Joseph’s affiliations for medical education with UA and numerous other medical schools, although the Creighton students will displace some of the 240 medical students who currently pass through St. Joseph’s on one-month rotations.

UA working on affiliation agreement as well

Recently, UA officials have also engaged in conversations with Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS) in Phoenix about the possibility of establishing an agreement somewhat like the St. Joseph-Creighton affiliation.

MIHS CEO Betsey Bayless said in the Phoenix Business Journal that such an agreement for clinical training could be a precursor to MIHS building a new hospital adjacent to medical school on the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus, which would provide some of the requisite clinical-training opportunities for third- and fourth-year UA medical students.

“There’s no question we are going to have a new hospital, eventually,” Bayless said in the Business Journal. “If we can have a clinical affiliation and we can agree to train students in our facilities … we can talk about other things. We’re talking about a relationship.”

William Crist, UA vice president for health affairs, said that building a new hospital downtown would be helpful, if not an immediate necessity.

“We are working very well with all the hospitals in our area, so we’re not pushing to have a hospital, but obviously, it would be beneficial if one of our partners decides to build a new hospital,” Dr. Crist said in the Business Journal.

He added that he has discussed with St. Joseph’s the possibility of developing together an outpatient expansion of the Arizona Cancer Center on the Biomedical Campus.

“There’s an advantage for researchers to walk back and forth across to the cancer center,” he said in the Business Journal. “We haven’t made any decisions about it yet.”

For more information:

Downtown hospital talks revived,” Phoenix Business Journal, 07/03/2009

Phoenix gets a new med-school program,” Arizona Republic, 06/30/2009

CU med school plans Phoenix branch,” Omaha World-Herald, 06/30/2009

Creighton University, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center Announce New School of Medicine Campus in Phoenix,” Creighton University media release, 06/30/2009