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Branching Out

Clinical Training in Colorado Springs


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 184.

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 branch.

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 offices.

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.

Brian 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.

“Financially 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.”

Jonathan Kark, 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.

By 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.