Oakland University's med school graduating first class

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
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When Adam Weiner interviewed at five medical schools, he vividly recalls a sit-down conversation with Robert Folberg, the founding dean of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

The connection with Folberg stood out to Weiner because it was the only medical school where he had a personal interaction with the dean. But even more importantly, Weiner said, was how meeting Folberg showed him how one of the state's newest medical schools aimed to be different.

"Dean Folberg sold me on what he is trying to do with this new medical school: to teach compassion, so that future doctors take the time to really listen to patients," said Weiner, who is following the path of his father, an ophthalmologist.

"This school really wants us to learn how to navigate medicine in a way that makes the patient feel like they are the priority. I feel like I have gotten that education, and I look forward to implementing it."

Friday, Weiner and 46 classmates will receive their medical degrees and become pioneers of what school officials and students call OUWB, the state's first new medical school to graduate a charter class in nearly 50 years.

Oakland's medical school is one of 16 new med schools in the United States since 2007, and the first of three new schools in Michigan.

The Central Michigan University College of Medicine enrolled its inaugural class of 64 students in August 2013, and Western Michigan University's Home Stryker M.D. School of Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of 54 students in August.

With the three new schools, Michigan now is home to seven medical schools.

The others are at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Michigan State University, which has two: the College of Human Medicine, and the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

All play a role in addressing the looming physician shortage as aging baby boomers and health care reform are expected to dramatically boost demands for care.

The nation's physician shortage is projected to climb to 46,000-90,000 by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

While enrollment at medical schools is expected to spike 49 percent by 2019, the number of residencies has not kept pace with the growing demand for physicians and interest from students in recent years, said Atul Grover, chief public policy officer at the association.

Since 1996, Congress has capped the number of residencies eligible for Medicare reimbursement at 27,000 nationwide — meaning a greater number of medical school graduates creates more competition for residency slots, not necessarily more doctors.

The association has recommended that Congress increase the cap to 30,000, especially since teaching hospitals are funding 10,000 residencies above the Medicare resident limit.

What's more, 600 medical school seniors across the country were unable to land residencies this year — and that figure is expected to grow if the cap doesn't change, Grover said.

"We need to create more (residency) positions after medical school to make a dent in the doctor shortage," he said. "Unless Congress does something, we are going to be faced with real access issues for patients because there is not enough physicians to treat the growing needs of patients."

Four years ago, OU's medical school selected 50 students from more than 3,000 applicants. Of the initial class, all but three will graduate on time, and those 47 have been placed in residency programs.

The med school has grown each class, to 75 students in 2012 and 2013 and 100 this fall. Next year, 125 students are expected to be admitted and the school expects to admit 125 students every year afterward.

Additionally, it has worked to emphasize holistic training of its medical school students.

"This school has a very distinctive mission," said Folberg, the school's dean. "Academic brilliance and mastery of skills are essential, but so is outstanding communication, cultural sensitivity, compassion, empathy and engagement. We put a huge emphasis on this.

"These are very, very well-rounded physicians and we are very proud of that. Students have said they can envision a time when you people will say, 'You must have trained at OUWB.' "

Dr. John E. Prescott, chief academic officer of the AAMC, will give the commencement address. AIDS activist Mary Fisher will receive an honorary doctor of humanities degree.

Graduates will don a cap and gown and, in an unusual scene, the remaining medical school students will be present in their white lab coats.

Among the graduates will be Brandon Luczak, who's doing an orthopedic surgery residency at Beaumont Health System. Reflecting on his years at Oakland's med school, Luczak said his class started traditions to build the legacy that Folberg hoped for future generations of students.

"We were the ones that took Folberg's vision and started it all," Luczak said. "We hope things continue."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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