FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ The nation’s only for-profit medical school for training MDs wants to open in Palm Beach County, Fla.The proposed school, Palm Beach Medical College, has applied for a license from the state to issue medical degrees. And it is seeking accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting agency for schools granting medical degrees.
“The demand for doctors is alarmingly high,” said Pete Martinez, a former IBM vice president who is chairman of Palm Beach Medical Education Corporation. “If you look at the state of medical schools right now, you can’t count on states right now to fund them. … If you go to the private sector, the private sector will get it immediately.”
If successful, Palm Beach Medical would be the second for-profit medical school in the country, but the only for-profit allopathic medical school, which produces MDs.
Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker, Colo., opened in 2008 as the first for-profit medical school in the country. It produces DOs.
Martinez is working with Dr. Carlos Martini, Palm Beach Medical’s president and CEO, to establish the new medical school.
Martini was instrumental in developing and winning approval for Florida International University’s medical school. He worked with the University of California Merced as it developed a medical school. Martini, the former vice president for medical education at the American Medical Association, also has helped develop international medical schools.
Martinez was reluctant to talk about the proposed medical school as it seeks state approval. The state’s decision could come in January.
But the school’s application sheds light on its plans.
Medical students would work in small groups with faculty mentors. The students would have early exposure _ in the first two years _ to patient care in clinical settings such as physician offices, hospitals and nursing homes.
Palm Beach Medical already has an agreement with the University of California system to use its joint medical program curriculum.
Technology would play a large role in the curriculum, with much of the education material electronic, allowing students to have three-dimensional views of patient cases. Electronic medical records would be instrumental in the students’ education.
With the strong technology component, Martinez calls it “a disruptive model of how you do medical education.”
The target opening is 2012, with an inaugural class of 100. Proposed tuition is $50,700 a year.
The college initially would lease space _ it estimates it would need about 140,000 square feet _ in Palm Beach County with a preference for southern Palm Beach County. Boca Raton is being considered because of its central location to Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The college has been reaching out to local hospitals that could provide clinical training.
It already established a relationship with the Caridad Center west of Boynton Beach. Students would receive hands-on training at the clinic, the largest free medical clinic in Palm Beach County, while working alongside their professors.
“I foresee our patients benefiting,” said Connie Berry, Caridad Center board president. “We always need physicians.”
That relationship could mean improved medical equipment, electronic records and lab and imaging services for the clinic, paid for by the college to enrich the medical education experience. The medical school also would pay for any expansion of the clinic.
Financing for the college would come from private investors.
Some in the medical community are skeptical of for-profit medical schools.
“For-profit medical education only works by over-charging and under-teaching, mainly through co-opting community hospitals (and some larger ones) to provide the clinical education in the last two years,” wrote Dr. Richard Cooper, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in an e-mail.
But Martinez argues that the private sector may be the solution to the severe shortage of physicians facing Florida and the nation.
Martinez said the number of applicants applying to medical schools in Florida far outnumbers those accepted.
But state and federal governments have been unwilling or unable to fund medical education. That’s where the private sector comes in.
“It’s a real dilemma,” Cooper said. “I hate the idea of for-profit medical schools, but I hate the idea of not enough doctors even more.”
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In Palm Beach County, a severe shortage of doctors is on the horizon, said Dr. Lawrence Gorfine, president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society. There is a huge demand for general surgeons, primary-care doctors and neurosurgeons.
To fulfill that need, having a medical school in the county isn’t as important as having a residency program, he said.
Medical students tend to settle down wherever they do their residencies _ clinical training at hospitals in the last two years of medical school.
“We need the trained doctors,” Gorfine said. “We need them desperately in Palm Beach County.”
Florida Atlantic University, which is seeking accreditation for its medical school, has partnerships with several hospitals in Palm Beach and Broward counties to provide residency training for its medical school.
The university declined to comment on the proposed Palm Beach Medical College as the university continues its accreditation process.
The University of Miami School of Medicine next year will begin offering a joint medical degree and master’s degree in public health, in which students spend their last two years doing clinical training at the Palm Beach County Health Department and local hospitals.
But Dr. Anthony Salvagni, dean of Nova Southeastern University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, worries that there are not enough residency spots at hospitals.
Many medical school graduates have to leave the state to do their residencies, he said.
“We pump our tax money into these people and they wind up leaving the state,” he said. “They don’t come back.