Medical school a plus for Sweet Home

If you are going to have a new neighbor, how about a doctor?

It was in late January that we reported Lebanon Community Hospital’s plans to create a new medical school on 51 acres west of the hospital campus.

The medical school has a couple of hurdles that must be negotiated before it can become a reality.

One is that it must gain approval form the American Osteopathic Association for a residency program in Lebanon and a financial feasibility study must show that the proposal has economic viability.

Officials of Samaritan Health Services and of Western University of Health Sciences of Pomona, Calif., the two entities behind this proposal, believe the lights will be green when the results come in about six months.

The target date for the opening of the medical school is 2011, but the campus is expected to start taking shape in about a year, starting with a 50,000-square-foot conference center. A 100,000-square-foot medical school facility is expected to follow.

For those who aren’t familiar with osteopathic medicine, it was developed 130 years ago by physician A.T. Still and is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions in the U.S. With a strong emphasis on the inter-relationship of the body’s nerves, muscles, bones and organs, doctors of osteopathic medicine, or D.O.s, aim to treat the whole person to prevent, diagnose and treat illness, disease and injury, according to the American Osteopathic Association.

The education required to become a D.O. is similar to that required to become an M.D. –  four years of academic study and a one-year internship, after which doctors of osteopathic medicine perform residencies of two to five years in primary care disciplines of family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics, as well as other specialties such as surgery, radiology, psychiatry and sports medicine.

The proposed Lebanon school’s first class is expected to be about 50 students, with faculty and staff numbering about 100.

How does this affect Sweet Home?

What it means, first and foremost, is that suddenly an area that is short of rural physicians will potentially have plenty.

They may not be just osteopathic physicians, either. In addition to the existing health careers training center at LCH, which serves nearly 1,000 students annually, Samaritan has been working to develop a program in conjunction with Oregon Health Sciences University in which LCH would host medical students.

Samaritan officials have told us that it is often difficult to recruit physicians who want to move to, and stay in, a rural area. Training students in an environment where they can get a taste for rural life may have a very positive effect on LCH and other local hospitals being able to keep their medical staffs at a healthy level.

Secondly, if there are 150 people involved in that school in 2011, with another 150 students added over the next four years, we’re talking about a sizeable number of people who need to live reasonably close to LCH. A spillover effect on Sweet Home’s housing market is certainly possible.

Lebanon officials have been quoted in news reports as saying they are eager to work to provide the infrastructure necessary to get this school up and running.

What Sweet Home can do to take advantage of the medical school’s arrival is continue to take positive steps toward revitalizing our business district.

We know our town has a lot to offer and if we can continue to make it more attractive (to the uninitiated), the medical staff down the road may decide to come up and see what makes us such a sweet place to live.

Having some doctors as neighbors could make it sweeter.