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Study praises MU med school

Jun. 15, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A new study ranking the success of medical schools in producing physicians to meet the country's health care needs has Dr. Charles McKown smiling, and for good reason.

McKown is dean of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, which just secured a No. 16 ranking among 141 medical schools considered in the study, surpassing the likes of Duke, Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities.

The study released Monday analyzed data from 1999 to 2001 and pinpointed where more than 60,000 graduates were and what type of medicine they actually practice.

The first-of-its-kind study, printed in the June 2010 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, examined the record of the nation's medical schools in graduating physicians who practice primary care, work in underserved areas and are minorities.

Marshall received a "social mission" score of 2.51, below the University of Kentucky at 2.61 and higher than the University of Massachusetts at 2.48 and the University of Wisconsin at 2.24.

"This is a very welcome announcement and greatly compliments our success and dedication to the mission we live by as a medical school, and that is providing well-trained and high-skilled physicians to practice in West Virginia," McKown said. "That's our foundation. At the time we were developed, that was our commitment and always will be."

Study director Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan of George Washington University, which conducted the research, found:

The highest social mission rankings belonged to Morehouse College, Meharry Medical College and Howard University.

Public and community-based medical schools had higher social mission scores than private and non-community-based schools.

Medical schools in the northeastern United States and in more urban areas were less likely to produce primary care physicians and physicians who practice in underserved areas.

Schools with substantial National Institutes of Health research funding produced fewer primary care physicians and physicians practicing in underserved areas, resulting in lower social mission scores overall.

McKown said research-based institutions have been slow to place an emphasis on primary care until lately. He also noted that three of the five schools formed during the 1970s as a result of the Teague-Cranston Act, which espoused the importance of not only training physicians for family practice, but also of addressing the medical care needs of the community as a whole, made the top 20 -- Wright State University, East Tennessee State University and Marshall University.

"This means we're doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing," McKown said.

Dr. John Walden, professor and chairman of the department of family and community health, said the primary care department of family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine are three of the busiest at Marshall.

"While we do have that research component, we're looking at training doctors to go out and serve people in the state, and we knew we had accomplished that, but it's nice to see that confirmation," said Walden.

He said that, over the years, more than 90 local School of Medicine graduates are now serving in 27 communities throughout the state. That does not account for physicians practicing just beyond the Ohio River in Kentucky or Ohio.

Walden said that statistics show that where physicians end up practicing is often where they performed their residency, a credit to the strength of the residency program at the school.

"We know, statistically over the past 15 years, we have an extremely high percentage of people who go into primary care, and I think that for the doctors who went to school here and did their residencies here, they get a real sense of the health problems that exist here in West Virginia," Walden said. "Anyone who reads the paper or watches television knows the health issues we face in terms of obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, heart disease and diabetes, and these students become very familiar with and better able to treat and understand those issues."

Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine staff and administration had no prior knowledge of the study or Mullan's research. They said the independent, objective assessment lends even more credibility to the results as they pertain to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

"Unlike some other studies that come out periodically, this recognition really emanates from unsolicited, analytic, objective analysis, and I'm just tickled to death," McKown said.

"I'm not surprised by this, but delighted of course," Walden said. "It's simply a reflection of what we've been doing all along."