Despite rocky start, medical school presses on

August 27, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: Ken Alltucker, The Arizona Republic ] – Arizona leaders see the new University of Arizona medical-school campus in downtown Phoenix as an anchor of a biomedical hub that will train more doctors, foster cutting-edge research and spur the state’s economy.

But as 48 students usher in the Phoenix college’s second year of instruction, much has changed from the original vision.

The medical school’s leadership is being overhauled. Plans for a new downtown teaching hospital have stalled. And the school’s Tucson faculty members have raised questions about whether the Phoenix campus will take away limited resources.

University officials acknowledge a rocky start in some respects for the nearly 2-year-old Phoenix campus.

“Any new concept will have some growing pains,” said Robert Bulla, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents and a regents committee overseeing development of the biomedical campus.
“I am not disappointed that it has been slow, but it has taken a little longer than I hoped to get things in place,” Bulla added.

Still, no one doubts the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University has made significant strides since its official October 2006 dedication.
The school has assembled its curriculum, hired faculty and welcomed the first two classes of medical students. It also has secured funds to pursue an ambitious expansion that will add a new educational and a state-of-the-art research lab that will be shared by the state’s three public universities.

The school is a key part of the state’s strategy, pushed by Gov. Janet Napolitano and others, to build a research-based economy and improve medical care.

Phoenix and the state have invested millions to develop and expand the medical school and to launch bioscience research facilities such as the Translational Genomics Research Institute to attract top-tier scientists. At the downtown campus, medical students rub elbows with top-notch genetic researchers who are developing advanced medical treatments.

Among the goals are to graduate more doctors in a state with one of the lowest per capita figures of physicians and to expand the state’s access to clinical trials and other treatments.

Changing visions

The Phoenix medical school’s challenges are not unique.

Expanding medical schools often must grapple with changes in funding, staffing and training locations for students, said Sarah Bunton, a senior research analyst with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“There are no formulaic answers to increasing class size,” said Bunton, who added that administrators must be flexible when planning medical-school expansions.

Some factors that slowed the pace of the Phoenix medical school’s progress over the past two years: