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New Utah medical school opens in Ivins, doubling state’s ability to train new doctors

First Published      Last Updated Jul 14 2017 11:23 pm

Education » Rocky Vista University, a for-profit school, is expected to expand health care access statewide.

Ivins • For Bradley Cook, the opening Friday of Utah's second medical school — which will double the number of future doctors that can train here each year — means highly skilled premed students will not have to leave Utah to continue their education.

It's an exciting prospect, because "we will be able to keep that talent here," the Southern Utah University provost said in a video Friday.

Eleven SUU students were among 135 accepted this year as part of the inaugural class at Rocky Vista University in Utah, a for-profit osteopathic medical school.

The first Rocky Vista class is 10 students larger than the 125 incoming first-year med students at the University of Utah, 300 miles to the northeast in Salt Lake City.

The Rocky Vista students, of which half are from Utah, will begin their four-year medical education later this month at the 32-acres Ivins campus.

Their two-story, 104,000 square-foot school building includes two, 200-seat lecture halls, 36 study rooms, a simulation center, standardized patient rooms and a 9,000 square-foot library. The campus also has two student housing buildings.

Utah health officials hope the new medical school will alleviate a physician shortage now plaguing the state. And though concerns about for-profit medical education persist in the industry, experts who have worked with students from Rocky Vista's first location — opened in 2008 in Parker, Colo., — said the concerns are unfounded.

"We really measure the student, not the school that they came from," said Shane Robinson, administrative director of graduate medical education at Idaho's Bingham Memorial Hospital. Students must obtain the same certifications "whether the school is for-profit or not, [so] you're comparing apples to apples, and the folks that join us are right on par, if not a hair better, than the national average."


More options • The U. has been training medical students for over 100 years, but Rocky Vista officials felt Utah needed more medical training opportunities to meet the state's needs.

There is a lack of health care access in Utah, particularly in rural and southern portions of the state, said Tom Told, dean and chief academic officer of Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

With 207.5 physicians per 100,000 population, the Beehive State ranks 43rd in the nation, according to 2015 Association of American Medical Colleges data.

Top-notch medical students are graduating from the U., but experts say there simply aren't enough. This is particularly problematic because research shows that individuals tend to stay in the state where they are trained.

"As our state's population continues to grow, the need for physicians continues to grow [with it]," Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday via video message. "And starting today, more Utah students will be able to stay in their home state while pursuing their medical education."

Told, who completed his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, said Friday he was not accepted into the U.'s medical school and was forced to leave the state in the 1970s to study.

He did not return to practice medicine in Utah after graduating medical school. "Where students train makes a big difference," Told said.

It became clear that this was still a problem, Told said, when he joined Rocky Vista in 2009, and realized how many Utah students came to study at the Colorado campus, the first for-profit medical school to open in the country.

So officials began to formulate a plan to bring a school to those students, one focused on osteopathic medicine, which promotes the body's own ability to heal.

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