CN, OSU share plans for medical college in Tahlequah
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences officials on Oct. 31 announced the establishment of the nation’s first college of medicine to be located at a tribal health facility.
The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation is set to open in 2020 in Tahlequah and will be an additional location of the OSU-COM in Tulsa.
CN Health Services Executive Director Dr. Charles Grim said a 469,000-square-foot outpatient facility being built next to W.W. Hastings Hospital is expected to be finished in mid-2019, which will make the OSU-COM possible. The school will be in the southern half of the current Hastings Hospital, occupying the first and second floors and an adjacent annex building.
“We are planning to have design complete of that building in August 2019, and it’s already begun. We expect construction to being on or before October 2019. We expect to have the annex building ready by August 2020 for the first class of 50 students, and we expect to have the main hospital complete no later than January of 2021,” Grim said. “What we are doing is essentially a comprehensive renovation of that entire facility.”
The college will occupy approximately 60,000 square feet. Plans call for the enrollment of an inaugural class of 50 students starting in the fall of 2020 with a total of 200 students when fully operational.
“This is the capstone of our health care initiative. Primary health care is the most important thing facing America and specifically rural Oklahoma,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “This new site will give our young people a place to learn and to become doctors while staying close to home. Our people will have access to doctors, making northeast Oklahoma a great place to work, to live and to raise a family.”
During the Oct. 31 activities, OSU-COM Dean Dr. William Pettit and Grim shared what the new facility is expected to look like when finished.
Grim said it has been “designed by some of the top minds in the nation” for the development of medical schools. On the first floor will be executive office suites, 11 study rooms with 100 student desks, a common space with a student lounge, a gym with locker rooms and showers, a relaxation area and faculty and staff suites. He said the building’s design also includes an outdoor classroom.
On the second floor would be a bookstore; medical surgery, pediatric, emergency room, maternity/obstetric simulation labs; two 60-student lecture halls; two 30-student learning labs; two 50-stundent learning labs; and CN and OSU-COM artwork.
Also, the annex building adjacent to the main building would house a gross anatomy lab, an osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, a clinical skills lab and a clinical exam room with standardized patient suites. Student and faculty common areas are also part of the plans.
“Recruiting primary care physicians to practice within the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction remains a constant struggle. We admire and support OSU Center for Health Sciences’ efforts to populate rural Oklahoma with doctors from rural Oklahoma. That mission will create healthier families and communities in northeast Oklahoma and improve the lives of Cherokees for the next seven generations,” Baker said.
As part of the announcements, $350,000 was donated for scholarships for students to attend the OSU-COM. Cherokee Nation Businesses donated $100,000, Friends of OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine donated $150,000 and the Chickasaw Nation donated $100,000.
“Congratulations to the Cherokee Nation…and OSU on this very wonderful occasion. It’s remarkable what you folks have put together here. This is the first medical school associated with a Native American tribe,” Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “We’ve worked together for decades. When Chief Baker called and he explained what he was doing, I didn’t hesitate. For me, it was something we needed to do. We’re delighted to be part of this scholarship fund that supports students that go to this institution.”
Nationally, only 0.2 percent of medical school students are Native American. At OSU-COM that percentage is as high as 16 percent some years.
“Chief Baker and the Cherokee Nation understand the severe physician shortage crisis in rural Oklahoma and share our vision of populating rural and tribal areas of our state with OSU-trained primary care physicians,” Kayse Shrum, OSU-CHS president, said. “Our partnership with the Cherokee Nation has deepened over the past 12 years. In 2006, our medical students started completing clinical rotations at W.W. Hastings Hospital. In 2009, we established a family medicine residency program in Tahlequah. We now have the opportunity to take this partnership to the next level through the creation of a new college of medicine.”
OSU-CHS has already started implementing recruiting strategies to identify biomedical and clinical faculty and potential students. OSU and CN plan to leverage its established relationship with Northeastern State University to attract students. NSU is a part of the OSU and Cherokee Health Services “3+1 Program,” which allows rural students to gain admission into OSU-COM after their sophomore years of college and start medical school following their junior years.
“The creation of the nation’s first tribally affiliated medical school falls directly in line with Oklahoma State University’s mission as a land grant university,” OSU President Burns Hargis, said. “Chief Baker and the Cherokee Nation share a mission with the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine to provide primary care physicians for rural and medically underserved areas of the state. What better way to achieve those goals than partnering together to bring a new center of medical learning to the Cherokee people?”