University of Minnesota Medical School proposes rural campus with CentraCare

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With the goal of readying more physicians to become rural providers, the University of Minnesota Medical School is weighing options for a new regional campus with specialty residency programs in central Minnesota.

The goal would be to address growing physician shortages in rural Minnesota at a time when the population is aging. Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the U of M medical school and vice president for clinical affairs, presented a non-binding statement of interest to the U of M’s Board of Regents earlier this month alongside Dr. Ken Holmen, president and chief executive officer of the rural healthcare network CentraCare.

The statement of interest envisions multiple options, including enrolling 20 to 24 students annually at a regional medical school campus based at CentraCare, expanding an existing CentraCare residency program in St. Cloud into specific specialty areas and creating new opportunities for joint clinical research based on rural health.

Other options include focusing on clinical collaboration, with the goal of improving access to specialized in-hospital tertiary or quaternary care such as dialysis or heart surgery.

Nationally, “there’s going to be an 80,000 rural physician gap by 2030,” Tolar told the board, emphasizing that closing the gap will require providing training in rural areas. “We always knew the answer, but we’ve just never done it — at least not done it effectively.”

Tolar said he expected to return before the board of regents in February with further details and a request to approve the non-binding statement of interest. Board members expressed enthusiasm for the general goal, with the expectation there will be future review of financial impacts and governance questions.

“This seems like a tremendous opportunity for us … but as we get into the discussion, it will be important for us to understand some of the metrics, and the numbers, and the concrete facts of the partnership that’s being proposed,” said Regents Chair Ken Powell, former chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills.

“The financial requirements and commitments that both of us will be taking on, I think we’ll need to see that,” Powell said. “We’ve learned from experience that the governance, how it’s designed, how it’s set up, the various roles, those become really crucial.”

CentraCare, a nonprofit rural healthcare network, spans eight hospitals and more than 25 senior care facilities, clinics, pharmacies and inpatient and outpatient specialty services.

The U of M already works with CentraCare through a family medicine residency program at St. Cloud established some 20 years ago, which includes a jointly-operated orthopedic program dubbed CentraCare M Physicians Orthopedics. The two are now studying options for a deeper academic partnership.

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