Oregon State University, Oregon Health and Science University and Samaritan Health Services took their first collective step into a new era that will see medical education being delivered in Corvallis at a Feb. 7 press conference in Salem with Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Leaders of all three institutions signed a memorandum of understanding that will establish for OHSU a “regional campus” where, beginning in fall 2008, 12 medical students will receive pre-clinical and clinical training at OSU and Samaritan. That number is projected to grow to 20 by the following fall.

“This new educational collaborative builds on our strong partnership with OHSU in pharmacy and a number of major research projects,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “Together we can have a significant impact on the training of medical students to meet the health care needs of the people of Oregon. We are very pleased to contribute to the education of medical students in Corvallis and know that they will contribute to the quality of other programs on campus.”

Necessity is driving the new arrangement. Currently capped at 120 students per entering medical school class, OHSU is the only M.D.-granting institution in a state where demand is outpacing supply. A recent report from the American Association of Medical Colleges says to keep pace that number would have to be closer to 240.

Between the OSU-OHSU-Samaritan partnership and a similar one already established between PeaceHealth Oregon Region and the University of Oregon, OHSU expects to increase class capacity by one-third, accepting 160 new students each fall. It’s a start.

“By expanding our current program and creating regional campuses … we create tangible benefits — economic, academic and social — and we gain new partners and new opportunities to both fulfill and enhance understanding of all aspects of our mission, including research, healing and patient care,” said OHSU President Joe Robertson.

OSU’s portion of the collaboration will take shape principally in the College of Science under the leadership of Zoology Department Chair John Ruben. He, Science Dean Sherman Bloomer and Provost/Executive Vice President Sabah Randhawa – all present at the Salem announcement – are enthusiastic about the new venture, noting OSU’s strong, existing connections to medical education.

Seventy-five percent of OSU grads who apply to medical school are accepted, for instance, compared to 45 percent nationally. And OSU is Oregon’s only university affiliated with the highly competitive Howard Hughes Medical Institute internship program, which each summer involves students in medical research projects in Corvallis.

To move the new partnership forward, Ruben and representatives from OHSU and Samaritan will next meet to begin developing a business plan.

The partnership won praise from Kulongoski, as well as state Sen. Frank Morse and state Rep. Sara Gelser, who also spoke at the press conference.

“As our nation ages, the need for an adequate supply of health care professionals is indeed becoming acute,” especially in rural areas, said Morse. Kulongoski noted that Oregon needs to create 59,000 health care jobs over the next decade to keep up and said this is one reason why he set aside $28 million in his budget proposal for training workers in health care and other high-demand occupations.

“When we work together, we can often develop creative, innovative solutions to our problems,” said Gelser, whose district, like Morse’s, includes OSU. “This collaboration is good for Corvallis, it’s good for OSU, OHSU and Samaritan, and it’s good for the people of Oregon.”

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Todd Simmons