LAS CRUCES – Come 2016, New Mexico State University will host a private medical school backed by Santa Fe real estate mogul Dan Burrell.
The $85 million Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine has secured a three-pronged agreement with NMSU that involves a seven-acre land lease; a provision to give students access to NMSU housing, services and activities; and an annual “brand-sharing” payment that will rise over four years to $500,000 annually.
NMSU President Garrey Carruthers and Burrell call it a historic public-private partnership and an important investment for a state suffering a shortage of primary care physicians.
It will be New Mexico’s first private medical school and only the second after the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. There will be no taxpayer money or state assistance contributed to the project, said Burrell, who also founded New Mexico’s Leadership Institute, which provides training and scholarships to UNM and NMSU.
The state ranks 31st in its physician-population ratio, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with 232 active physicians per 100,000 people. A third of those are 60 or older and may soon be retiring.
“We have an older population than the national average, a poorer population than the national average, more patients will come through (the Affordable Care Act) than in any other state on a per-population basis,” Burrell said. “And we are one of the states with the least number of physicians to serve them. The trends on the demand side are going way up, whereas the supply (of physicians) is flat to declining.”
The four-year Burrell College will initially admit 150 students per class, with that number growing to 300 per class over time, Burrell said. Tuition is set at $45,000 per year, and the applications to the first class will be accepted in fall 2015. About 2.5 percent of revenue will go toward scholarships.
UNM School of Medicine in-state tuition is $16,170 per year, while students coming from out of state pay $46,347 annually.
Carruthers, a former New Mexico governor, said he believes the agreement will make NMSU a “much more comprehensive university” and will complement existing programs in nursing and pre-med.
“We also think it’s very important, given our service to rural areas, that we produce more physicians for primary care in rural areas, and osteopathic physicians tend to be principally primary care doctors,” he said.
Nationwide, medical schools produce either medical doctors (MDs) or osteopathic doctors (DOs). The American Osteopathic Association currently accredits 30 osteopathic medical schools in the U.S., and the Burrell College will seek AOA accreditation.
The AOA describes osteopathic medicine as a “whole person” approach to health that, in preventing and diagnosing disease, looks at how the body’s systems are interrelated and how each one affects the others. That underlying philosophy leads about 60 percent of osteopathic physicians to practice in primary care fields including family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics, according to the AOA.
“Most of the new schools that have been starting have been in areas that have been traditionally underserved, that have experienced shortages in primary care physicians,” said Boyd Buser, a member of the AOA Board of Trustees and dean of the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It’s really not surprising, because when you look at the history of osteopathic medicine, we’ve always had an emphasis on producing primary care physicians.”
Burrell’s holdings through Santa Fe-based Rosemont Realty include numerous commercial properties in Albuquerque and cities across more than 20 states, as well as an industrial garnet mine in Otero County. But the medical college is a privately financed endeavor separate from Rosemont, he said.
He describes his investment philosophy as “very focused on solving situations and problems.”
One issue that has stymied medical school expansions over the past two decades is a cap on federal funding for residencies, a required part of training before a medical student can become a licensed practitioner. However, a provision of the law allows hospitals that weren’t in existence when the cap was passed in the mid-1990s to apply for new Medicare-funded residencies.
Burrell said the college has established relationships with a Las Cruces hospital, Mountainview Regional, and two El Paso hospitals to apply for Medicare-funded residency slots.