By Mark Couch
(May 2014) When the University of Colorado School of Medicine branch in Colorado
Springs opened earlier this year, it marked a milestone for the school
and the state of Colorado.
The Colorado Springs branch is the
first of its kind for the medical school and will allow the school to
increase its class size and train more physicians. Beginning this
summer, the number of students admitted annually to pursue a medical
degree at the School of Medicine will increase from the current 160 to
The additional 24 students per class will receive their
third- and fourth-year clinical training at locations in El Paso County.
The first cohort of medical students is expected to arrive at the
branch in 2016.
Developing a branch is not as simple as hanging a
sign on the door. The school developed an educational program that was
reviewed by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the
national accrediting body for medical schools. The LCME notified the
School of Medicine last year that it could proceed with its plan for the
In addition, significant funding support is provided by
the University of Colorado Health (UC Health), which leases Memorial
Hospital in Colorado Springs. UC Health has agreed to provide $3
million per year for 40 years to help cover costs of the branch. Student
tuition also will be used to cover costs.
In December, Erik Wallace, MD, FACP, joined the school as associate dean for the Colorado
Springs branch. Wallace had been an associate professor of internal
medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa School
of Community Medicine.
In February, the school joined the
University of Colorado Board of Regents, President Bruce Benson and
leaders from University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) and Peak
Vista Community Health Centers to celebrate the grand opening of the
Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences on the UCCS campus. The Lane
Center will house the School of Medicine branch’s administrative
Wallace says the school will collaborate with health care
providers and other educators to develop a training program that
addresses community needs while also preparing the next generation of
physicians. “I believe the Colorado Springs community has an amazing
opportunity to embrace innovations in medical education,” Wallace
says. “Through interprofessional education, team-based learning and
team-based care, our students will learn to provide outstanding and
compassionate care for all patients.”
Some CU medical students have long desired a branch in Colorado Springs.
Specht, a fourth-year medical student from Colorado Springs, says he
rented an apartment in Denver to attend classes while his wife and their
child remained in Colorado Springs. Born and raised in Colorado, Specht
graduated from UCCS in 2010 with degrees in biology and chemistry, and
had his sights set on the “holy grail,” CU School of Medicine.
speaking, it would have made a huge difference,” Specht says. “I maxed
out my loans out of necessity. As difficult as medical school is, it
doesn’t help to be separated from your family.”
also a fourth-year medical student, says he “slept in a twin-sized bunk
bed for two years” at Specht’s apartment. Kark’s wife stayed in Colorado
Springs to complete a master’s degree at UCCS. The Karks moved to
Denver after she graduated.
expanding clinical training opportunities for medical students, the
school can add more graduates to address the physician shortage facing
the country and can also introduce students to areas of the state that
need more doctors.
According to the Association of American
Medical Colleges, there is a shortage of about 20,000 primary care
physicians nationally. The number is expected to increase during the
next decade because 50 percent of the country’s presently employed
physicians are more than 50 years old.