MSU Medical School A Go

November 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — It’s official. Grand Rapids will become home to a four-year, accredited medical school — the MichiganStateUniversityWestMichiganMedicalSchool. The school will welcome its first 50 third- and fourth-year students in 2008 and be fully operational in 2010.

Van Andel Institute Chairman David Van Andel said seven potential sites for the med school are under consideration.

For more than a year, a group of community leaders known as the “stakeholders,” along with more than 60 volunteers, have pondered the feasibility of establishing a medical school in Grand Rapids. The move is part of a strategy to build a stronger biomedical and life sciences environment in the region and grow the economy in the process.

Tuesday the group announced it had compiled evidence that demonstrates the idea’s feasibility.

The stakeholder group is comprised of representatives of Grand Action, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, The Right Place Inc., Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute. The group formed in the fall of 2004 following a Deloitte Consulting report on the potential economic impact of expanding MSU’s College of Human Medicine to West Michigan.

Van Andel noted that the Deloitte report emphasized that medical schools “are powerful economic engines that represent the intellectual capital necessary to incubate new business ventures, particularly when focused on research.”

The stakeholder group, he said, wanted to build a medical school here to improve the health care options, economic activity and medical education in the West Michigan region, and to complement the research component of the VAI.

West Michigan has a proven willingness to invest in the future,” Van Andel remarked. “We have a vision of a strategic plan for economic growth and creating a new sector in the economy, particularly our focus on the life sciences. High quality medical practice standards are also here. It is the right environment for building an innovative, medical research education program.”

The stakeholders’ goal all along has been to create a financially self-sustaining, state-of-the art, four-year accredited medical school that would focus on medical programs in research and sub-specialty (highly specialized) clinical practice.

The past year’s efforts point to “the power of we,” said MSU President Lou Anna Simon.

“Over these months we’ve created a shared vision, we’ve had a shared assessment of our assets, and a shared sense of confidence in one another,” Simon said.

“We have a shared sense that this is right for MSU, all the partners, the state of Michigan and West Michigan. We are confident that we will celebrate the success of this partnership in a way that it will become the model for 21st century medical education.”

She said MSU’s College of Human Medicine in East Lansing will remain a four-year school and will not compete with the new medical school here. The East Lansing medical school will remain focused on primary care, which is all about the training of doctors.

But advanced education into specialty and sub-specialty care has to be done in a research environment where people are doing cutting-edge work, and that’s where the Van Andel Institute comes in.

Having the research environment of the VAI already in place will give MSU’s third- and fourth-year med students a much more research-intensive environment, as well as experiences in specialty and sub-specialty care. According to plans, they will have a molecular-, genetic-, futuristic-focused program built on research.

Representatives from MSU and West Michigan co-chaired seven work groups of volunteers that concentrated on specific areas of development — commercialization, educational planning, project financing, fundraising, operations and facilities, and research and faculty plans. Collectively, the work groups came up with a conceptual framework for the medical school and potential collaborative opportunities with research, health care and educational institutions in the area.

Based on that framework, the stakeholders outlined a six-pronged vision for the med school:

  • MSU and its West Michigan partners will establish five new “focused research” clusters so biomedical research can be translated more quickly into diagnosis and treatments. Research clusters will cover cancer, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis and neurobiology.
  • The medical school will be the cornerstone for the development of West Michigan as a center for life sciences commercialization.
  • The medical school will create an innovative molecular medicine curriculum with an integrated four-year basic science, clinical and research education that surpasses accreditation standards.
  • Grand Rapids will become the center of molecular medicine research and education for the MSU College of Human Medicine and home to its dean’s office.
  • MSU West Michigan Medical School will have a substantial and distinct identity and physical presence here.
  • The med school will be financially secure. Financial security will be built on substantial commitments from MSU and long-term contracts with West Michigan collaborators.

Van Andel said the next step is for MSU and its West Michigan partners to develop and finalize a series of contracts, a process he expects will be expedited. Overall cost figures won’t be known until that process is completed, he said. Once that is done, fundraising efforts for construction of the med school can get under way.         

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