Visiting Wichita

August 16, 2013

The highlight of my week was a trip to our campus in Wichita, my second as Executive Vice Chancellor. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who visited on Tuesday, and I had been eager to visit with our many stakeholders and supporters after this year's especially difficult budget discussions raised questions in the community about the future of the campus.

Chancellor Gray-Little spent a whirlwind day meeting with state senators and representatives, members of the Wichita City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, and editors and reporters at the Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Business Journal. Her message about our commitment to the KU School of Medicine-Wichita and our plan for its future growth were well-received. Community support for the Wichita campus is strong, for which we are extremely appreciative.

I arrived Tuesday evening in time for dinner and excellent conversation with the executive committee of our 4-Wichita board, a group of business and community leaders originally convened to help us expand our two-year medical school program in Wichita to a full four-year program.

Our plans now are to build on that expansion. Many of you may not know that we began the legislative session that just ended with a request for additional state funding to help sustain our Wichita campus. Last January we asked the state for $2.8 million, a request that was not included in the governor's budget. This year we are returning to the Legislature with an even bigger request of $4.5 million. Even though we are asking for more money for Wichita in a budget climate that remains difficult, we are optimistic. This is partly because we have refined our plans for the school's future in Wichita.

Currently, the first-year class in Wichita consists of 28 students. In the third year of medical school, a group of students who have spent their first two years on the Kansas City campus moves to Wichita to join them for the third and fourth years of clinical training. This increases the third- and fourth-year class size in Wichita to approximately 65 students.

Our plans are to expand the first-year class size in Wichita to 56 students who will then spend all four years in Wichita. This is the right thing to do for two key reasons. We know that medical students who train in Wichita are more likely to stay in Kansas to establish their practices, so increasing the number of students we train in Wichita will help our ongoing efforts to meet the state's physician workforce needs. Also, we know that while our students are happy to be in medical school, they are even happier when they don't have to move from one city to another at the halfway mark.

Many of our Kansas City graduates stay in Kansas as well, and we are also returning to the legislature with our request for funding to assist in the creation of new educational facilities which would allow us to add 25 slots to our Kansas City med school class and enhance our capacity for multi-disciplinary, health-care-team training.

Expanding the class size in Wichita gives us an opportunity to build on one of our biggest strengths: training desperately needed primary care doctors. In recent weeks, the Wichita campus has been excited about a new report, published August 14 in Academic Medicine. The study, led by George Washington University, ranked the KU School of Medicine-Wichita's residency program No. 6 in the nation for producing primary care graduates. We already knew the KU School of Medicine-Wichita is among the nation's top schools for training residents who go on to practice primary care, particularly in rural and underserved areas like Kansas. Now that's been validated by outside researchers.

Of course, the Wichita campus doesn't just produce primary care docs - plenty of its graduates ultimately practice in other specialties. And though the Kansas City campus tends to produce a higher percentage of specialists, it's also strong in primary care. So, as the nation struggles with its critical need for primary care doctors, we have a great opportunity to show everyone how it's done. Add in future graduates from Salina, and the KU School of Medicine may already be No. 1.

There's so much enthusiasm for our work in Wichita. I enjoyed the great interaction with faculty and staff at our town hall meeting in the Sunflower Room and appreciated so many people taking time out of their schedules to attend. And I had good visits with Mary Beth Warren, director of our statewide Area Health Education Centers; Lorene Valentine, director of the Medical Practice Association; and Paul Callaway, who was appointed associate dean for graduate medical education for Wichita in May. I also had excellent discussions with Sen. Ty Masterson and with Jeff Korsmo, president and CEO of Via Christi Health, and Hugh Tappan, president and CEO of Wesley Medical Center. 

I was impressed by - and grateful for - everyone's deep commitment to our institutional mission and enthusiasm for our ongoing collaboration. It's always an honor to get out and tell our story, and I'm looking forward to many more trips like this one. Until then, everyone involved with KU Medical Center should be proud of the value we bring to the state.

Last modified: Aug 16, 2013