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Idaho’s first medical school officially opens

September 6, 2018

MERIDIAN — After years of anticipation, Idaho’s first medical school has become a reality.

The Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, or ICOM, hosted a Wednesday ribbon-cutting ceremony for its three-story building next to Idaho State University-Meridian. The first class of 162 students — 41 from Idaho — started instruction on Aug. 20.

Four of those students are recent ISU graduates.

In 2016 ISU leased the land to ICOM on which the medical school was built and agreed to allow ICOM to use ISU laboratory space.

Both current ISU President Kevin Satterlee and his predecessor, Arthur Vailas, attended Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting.

Satterlee said the ISU-ICOM partnership will enable the state to produce “the next generation of doctors who will be will be taking care of us. This is truly a historic occasion and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Vailas, who helped negotiate the ICOM partnership before he retired in June, said he can recall the empty parking lot where ICOM now stands.

“Look what has happened,” Vailas said. “This speaks volumes to the commitment of the people of Idaho.”

Although the two schools have a partnership between them, ICOM “has its own governing board and operates independently of ISU,” the university said in a Wednesday press release.

ICOM students will earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, or D.O., as opposed to a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D. Both groups are licensed physicians with similar schooling, training and practices, but their philosophies vary. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes holistic care and preventative treatment.

Construction began on ICOM next to ISU-Meridian off Interstate 84 in May 2017. The $34 million, 94,000-square-foot ICOM building was $3 million under budget, said Dr. Robert Hasty, ICOM’s founding dean and chief academic officer.

“To design a facility with everything we need is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Hasty earlier this year.

The building was designed to allow in natural light and give students an appealing learning environment. The building has three student lounges, a courtyard with 3 miles of paths and two infinity pools, a library with 124 seats and private study areas, 24 small group study rooms with high-definition monitors and glass whiteboards, and 72 Wi-Fi connection spots, according to Chris Wilson, ICOM director of facilities.

The first floor also includes a breastfeeding room that will have a refrigerator, sink and live recordings of lectures.

“We are standing here in a vision that was started over a decade ago,” said Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd.

THE VISION

The Burrell Group, a New Mexico investment group, is the main funder of ICOM, which is a private, for-profit college. The same group also started the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University.

“This was a labor of love,” said Dan Burrell, CEO of the Burrell Group, at the ceremony.

Burrell said he saw a similar need for physicians in the Mountain West that existed in New Mexico. The shortage prompted him to begin looking for somewhere in the area to build a medical school.

Idaho ranks 49th for the number of physicians and 50th for primary care physicians per capita in the nation, Hasty said.

Idaho currently partners with medical schools in neighboring states to offer spots for Idaho medical students. When announcing ICOM in February 2016, Gov. Butch Otter said Idaho needs to do more to address its “critical doctor shortage.”

Osteopathic medicine doctors are more likely to go into primary care and stay in “these rural and underserved communities,” said Burrell.

“We are producing the kinds of physicians our country wants and needs,” said William S. Mayo, president of the American Osteopathic Association during the ceremony.

According to Mayo, there are 30,000 osteopathic medical students in the U.S. and 13,000 DOs, said Mayo, during the ceremony. With the current growth in osteopathic medicine, DOs will be one in every five physicians in the U.S. by the year 2030.

SCHOLARSHIPS AND ENDOWMENTS

ICOM yearly tuition is $49,750, not including fees or other expenses. Students were not eligible for federal financial assistance because it is ICOM’s first year. Seven students received $5,000 scholarships from the ICOM scholarship fund.

ICOM raised $20,000 from employees and board members for scholarships given out this year. The rest of scholarship came from the Community Match Agreement signed between ICOM and the city of Meridian on Aug. 8, 2017. It states ICOM will receive “$200,000 over the course of four years, plus the waiver of potential construction permit fees up to $100,000” from the city.

ICOM received its first installment of $50,000 in Aug. 2017 and the second installment a couple weeks ago. ICOM used the $100,000 permit fee in Aug. 2017 for commercial permit fees.

The college is using half of each of these installments to fund scholarships and the other half to create an endowment that will fund future scholarships, Hasty said. As of Sept. 2018 the endowment has $50,000.

Over the next decade, Hasty said ICOM estimates there will be over $2 million in the endowment fund. The majority of that will come from sales tax exemptions from the college’s payroll. Hasty said the college plans to spend half of the $3.85 million they estimate receiving from the state on new scholarships each year — at least $150,000 per year — and the other half will be put in the endowment.

“One-hundred percent of that money will go to the ICOM scholarships … half of that will be spendable so each year we’ll have a little more money coming toward Idahoans for scholarships,” Hasty said.

Hasty said the goal is to create an endowment that can sustain the college’s scholarship program.

One the students who received a scholarship was Jacob Boyd. Boyd is a Nampa native who has been married for a little more than 2 years and has a baby girl on the way.

“As my wife and I are beginning our family we can’t thank you enough for the financial support you have given us through the ICOM Scholarship,” Boyd said in a letter to ICOM. “I promise to study hard to continually say thank you, as well as prepare to give my future patients the care they need and deserve.”

The Idaho State Journal contributed to this report.

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