TEMPE – Arizona State University announced ambitious plans to open a medical school focused on medical engineering and technology as part of a new “ASU Health” initiative that addresses the state’s long-term health needs.
The proposal, unveiled by ASU President Michael Crow at Thursday’s Arizona Board of Regents meeting, was in response to regents’ request for new approaches to its AZ Healthy Tomorrow, a strategy to deal with Arizona’s shortage of health care professionals while accelerating bioscience, life science and research at the state’s three universities.
The addition of a medical school at ASU, one of the largest public universities by enrollment in the United States, is decades in the making.
“This moment has been a long time coming,” said Fred DuVal, chair elect of the Arizona Board of Regents.
The new School of Medicine and Advanced Medical Engineering will integrate clinical medicine, biomedical science and engineering in a new approach to medical school, Crow said, and will create “a new kind of physician engineer.”
He said the program will follow the design of similar schools at Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois.
A School of Public Health Technology will be created under the ASU Health banner as well as a Medical Master’s Institute, which will offer master’s degrees in medical engineering and design, public health technology and observational sciences.
The institute is meant to attract MDs to Arizona, he said, with a goal of allowing doctors to further their education.
An Arizona Health Observatory will be established, providing a real-time warning system to help state leaders spot health trends based on data.
“These will be things we learned during the pandemic, ways in which we make better decisions, ways in which we can produce better health outcomes,” Crow said. He highlighted such issues as tracking viruses, pathogens and drug use.
Crow called ASU Health a “learning health ecosystem” with a goal to accelerate health efforts to tackle Arizona’s health care needs. He said the comprehensive efforts are designed to increase the number of health care workers and improve health literacy on a socioeconomic scale.
“We are focusing our full energy and innovation on improving Arizona’s health outcomes,” Crow said. “We have an opportunity for change. And over the past 20 years, ASU has shown that we know how to create transformative change, at scale.”
According to a health care gap analysis report prepared for the regents, Arizona ranked 43rd among states in 2022 in public health funding and 32nd in health care system performance. The numbers coincide with the 2022 edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data book, which reported that about 149,000 children do not have access to health insurance.
“Three million Arizonans live in a community with limited access to primary care,” DuVal said. “Arizona has approximately eight nurses per 1,000 residents, the ninth-lowest nursing ratio in the country. We are in the bottom quartile per capita in the number of physicians for our population. More than one in three Arizona hospitals face critical staffing shortages.”
DuVal said the ASU initiative is “part of the most aggressive and comprehensive health care plan in Arizona’s history. It will include major growth and new investments by all three of our state universities, significant partnerships with the private sector, and the support of our government partners.”
UArizona President Robert Robbins presented the Tucson university’s contribution to AZ Healthy Tomorrow at a Board of Regents meeting earlier this year. That plan focused on fully integrating the College of Medicine with Banner University Medical Center and improving telemedicine for rural health care providers. NAU will present its proposal at a later date.
The health care initiatives at the three universities will be paid for with a seed fund involving public and private sectors, DuVal said. The portfolio is composed of $30 million from the regents, funds from the individual universities and outside sources such as grants from foundations. Crow said there is no timeline for when the new schools will open.
Regarding ASU Health, Crow said, “Like the rest of ASU, it will find a way to fund itself. That’s the way we’ve built the university.”
DuVal said funding specifics are the next phase of AZ Healthy Tomorrow.
“We wanted to signal a commitment by making these monies available so the universities know we are that serious and that they have money to plan,” he said.
Brittney Kaufmann, CEO of Health System Alliance of Arizona, said the regents’ initiative will better equip patients across “diverse health care settings and with unique needs, both in urban hubs and rural areas statewide.” The alliance is an advocacy group that includes major hospitals in Arizona.
“AZ Healthy Tomorrow will mean more physicians, nurses and other health professionals to fill the health care talent pipeline, and we look forward to welcoming these new professionals into our hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers,” she said.
ASU’s new college of medicine would join four medical degree-granting schools already in Arizona. The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson was the first medical school, established in 1967. The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix graduated its first class in 2011. The UArizona colleges are separately accredited, but each receives between 6,000 and 7,000 applicants each year for a class size of 120 students in Phoenix and 125 in Tucson.
Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is a national medical school with campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota. Its Phoenix/Scottsdale campus has 50 students per class. Creighton University School of Medicine opened a Phoenix campus for its MD program in 2021.
ASU was initially part of a collaboration between UArizona and the Translational Genomics Research Institute for a four-year branch campus of the UArizona College of Medicine in Tucson that began in 2007 at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. Citing budget issues, ASU pulled out of that partnership in 2010.