New medical school to train doctors to work in poor areas

March 10, 2020 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A new four-year medical school in St. Louis will focus on training doctors who will work in poor urban and rural areas.

Puerto Rico-based Ponce Health Sciences University is making an $80 million commitment to develop the new campus in north St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday. Construction will begin later this year with a freshman class of 150 in the fall of 2022.

Ponce President David Lenihan told the newspaper that the goal is to provide opportunities for minority and low-income students who fail to get a spot in a traditional medical school but show promise to succeed. He said those students tend to work in communities where they grew up and have a strong understanding of their patients.

“St. Louis is positioned right in the heart of America,” Lenihan said. “The reason why St. Louis is so good, is that if our mission is trying to increase the cultural diversification and the socio-economic diversification, why don’t we build it in the Midwest, where we need it? We don’t need it in New York. You don’t need it in Miami or California. You need it in Missouri, Kansas and rural Illinois.”

The school will be part of developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Plan to develop the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project across from the future site of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters.

A 2018 report by the Missouri Hospital Association said the U.S. faces a shortage of up to 49,000 primary care doctors over the next decade. Rural areas and poorer parts of urban areas are especially at risk.

Herb Kuhn, hospital association president, said several Missouri counties have no primary care physicians and eight acute hospitals in rural Missouri have closed in the past five years. All told, 44 Missouri counties lack a hospital.

“If you really want to solve the problem in Missouri, and elsewhere in the U.S., you have to train more providers,” Lenihan said. “This is how we show the rest of the U.S. and the world, this is how you do this.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges found that 21,622 applicants enrolled in medical schools for the 2018–2019 school year, out of the 52,777 who applied.

All of the 600 students at Ponce’s medical school in Puerto Rico are either minorities or come from a low-income background, Lenihan said. The school supplies 12% of all the Hispanic medical school graduates in the U.S., he said. Annual tuition is $35,000.


This story was first published on March 6. It was updated on March 10 to correct that a study found that 21,622 students were enrolled in medical schools during the 2018-19 school year, not that this was the number of applicants who were accepted. It also corrects that the study was conducted by The Association of American Medical Colleges, not The Princeton Review.