Washington lawmakers may be focused on solving the demand side of the health-care equation, but in the rural counties along the Virginia-Tennessee state line a big concern is the supply of doctors. Much of the mountainous region — which also includes western North Carolina, southeastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia — already is classified as medically underserved and is projected to have a shortage of 6,500 physicians by 2020.
For this reason, King College in Bristol, Tenn., has been on a mission to develop a medical school. In November, the project got a shot in the arm when the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission awarded it a $25 million grant, a major down payment on the total $100 million needed for the medical school to move forward.
The funding “has served as a catalyst and given the project traction,” says Dr. Greg Jordan, the president of King College. Since the grant was announced, a number of other organizations and individuals have pledged financial support for the school.
As a stipulation of the Tobacco Commission grant, the King School of Medicine and Health Sciences will be built in Virginia. College officials expect it to be located near Bristol Medical Center, and they are pushing for the first class of students to be enrolled in fall 2012. The school will train 75 students in its first year, but class size is expected to increase eventually to 150 students.
Jordan says that the school initially will create 300 to 500 jobs, ranging from faculty and researchers to administrative and support staff. The medical school also is expected to promote growth among local hospitals and create a research and a commercial biomedical corridor. A study projects that, by 2035, the medical school will have a $2.9 billion economic impact on the region.
“All of this would hopefully parallel what has happened in Richmond around the Virginia Commonwealth University medical complex,” says Jordan. King College plans to place a strong emphasis on local residency programs as a way to encourage graduates to practice in the region.
The King College School of Medicine would be the second new medical school developed in Virginia in the past three years. The Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School is expected to enroll its first class next fall.
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