By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Dr. Nathan Box spent part of Wednesday morning judging the Missouri Southern State University Regional Science Fair before he rushed back to his office to see patients.
Box is a plastic surgeon at Freeman’s Ear, Nose and Throat Center, 1331 W. 32nd St.
He considers the time he spent helping at Missouri Southern last week a payback for the university’s service to him.
“I owe a lot to Missouri Southern because they have an alliance with KCUMB and they helped me get in school up there,” he said.
Box graduated from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 2005 after earning his undergraduate degree in science and biology at Southern. He was accepted into both the osteopathic and allopathic medical schools. He chose the osteopathic school, he said, “because it fit my personality.”
KCUMB has had ties to Joplin — in particular Missouri Southern and the Freeman Health System — since 2008.
A few years ago, there was talk of bringing a 600-student KCUMB satellite campus to MSSU, but that deal fell through in 2010.
Now local officials are trying again to entice the medical school to open a Joplin campus.
Officials from KCUMB’s Strategic Expansion Task Force were in Joplin earlier this year and met with city and Missouri Southern officials to discuss options. The KCUMB board is to consider those offers in this month, KCUMB officials have said.
One option would be locating at Southern.
While here, they toured the MSSU Health Sciences Building, with its respiratory therapy, radiology and nursing programs, and the Ummel Technology Building, with its new cadaver lab.
Another option is locating downtown.
The city’s master development firm, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, has proposed constructing a medical education building valued at nearly $80 million at the existing site of the Joplin Public Library and moving the library to 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue as part of a post-tornado economic redevelopment plan.
“I think from the standpoint of the community at large, the benefit that could be derived having KCUMB in the Joplin market is significant,” said David Wallace, CEO of the master development firm. “It is not just the economic impact. I think the prestige Joplin could have from that truly becomes a magnet. When people are looking to go into the medical field, Joplin would be on their radar screen.”
A medical school also would help provide area health services to Freeman Health System, a teaching hospital, and Mercy Hospital Joplin, Wallace said.
Neither the master developer nor Missouri Southern consider their offers to KCUMB as competing.
“I think if we are able to partner with them, and even if we do not, if they partner with the city, I still think we all will benefit,” said Crystal Lemmons, assistant vice president of academic affairs at Southern. “I think the students in our community will benefit as well.”
(Nathan Box, by the way, is the son of Gary Box, who is the Joplin project manager for Wallace-Bajjali. Gary Box said he does not discuss the firm’s work or the KCUMB deal with his son.)
Nathan Box and another KCUMB graduate who now practices with him, Scott McClintick, agreed that there will be increased demand for medical services in the future.
“It is important to recruit doctors. That’s why bringing a branch campus to this area is such a big deal,” Box said.
The need for physicians and other medical professionals has been pointed out by a number of health organizations.
The Association of American Medical Colleges and the Center for Workforce Studies, in a 2008 report, predicted the United States will experience a shortage of doctors through at least 2025 because of the aging baby boomers, population growth and other factors.
The number of physicians in the United States in 2015 is forecast to be 719,000 but there is expected to be demand for 758,000, the report noted. That gap is expected to grow to 124,000 by 2025.
For patients, the shortage means longer wait times for appointments, increased travel distances to get to doctors or medical providers who can see them, and shorter amounts of time for consultations, according to the report.
“In terms of MSSU, we as a four-year institution have to be very aware of what the changing dynamics are in terms of demand for jobs,” Lemmons said.
The university looks to a partnership for a number of reasons, she said.
“Are we going to be able to produce students and be in tune with what our students are wanting from us in terms of education? We have talked about what the job market demands are, and one of the things that has always come up is we would like to expand to bring in graduate-level programs for Southwest Missouri” and students from neighboring states as well, she said.
Students at a medical school in Joplin also could help provide medical services to many people who may not have access to affordable care regularly, Box said.
He points to an example at KCUMB — Score 1 for Health — in which medical students provide free health screenings for elementary-aged children.
McClintick, who graduated from KCUMB with Box in 2005, came to Joplin to do his residency before he decided to stay.
While some physicians might choose larger cities, McClintick said he felt comfortable here because his father is a doctor in the small town of Eureka, Kan., near Wichita. He also has a sister and brother who also earned their degrees at KCUMB.
He said KCUMB offers state-of-the-art teaching resources and can offer clinical rotations across the United States for students.
“In terms of osteopathic medical schools, they are in the top two or three in the nation,” he said. “They are a well-known school that is pretty prestigious.”
He sees a number of benefits for the area to bringing a branch campus to Joplin.
“It would benefit the community by bringing jobs here,” he said, referring to the professional staff, their families and students.
It also would acquaint medical staff and students with area communities where they may wish to go to work. Drawing doctors to rural areas can be difficult otherwise, he said.
“Such a school would aid in the recruitment of physicians to our rural region — a task that is often difficult when competing with metropolitan areas for the same highly skilled physicians,” Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman, said in a statement.
“Some of Freeman’s most talented physicians completed their residency training within our very walls. Because of the relationships we establish with those physicians, many are more than eager to work at Freeman once their education is completed. The establishment of a medical school in Joplin would likely provide the same opportunity not just at Freeman but with other area hospitals, creating a positive impact on health care in our region,” she said.
Mercy officials also favor bringing a medical school campus to Joplin.
“All regional hospitals would have an advantage in recruiting key physicians, as most physicians choose to practice within close proximity to their residency program,” Gary Pulsipher, Mercy Joplin president and CEO, said in a statement. “Further, we believe there would be a positive impact on the region from both an economic and cultural perspective.”
Lemmons, with MSSU, said the market in medical education is so important that Missouri Southern’s search for graduate programs in the medical field will continue if KCUMB does not come to Joplin.
“We feel that by looking at some job market analyses, this is one area we will be able to expand and grow. If we do a partnership with KCUMB, that’s fantastic. But if we don’t, we will consider other schools, not just medical schools but dental and pharmaceutical schools,” Lemmons said.
KCUMB is a four-year school founded in 1916.
It is one of the oldest and largest of the 29 osteopathic universities in the nation.
It is one of three osteopathic universities to have twice received the John Templeton Spirituality in Medicine Award for integrating spirituality into its curriculum.
It has a graduation rate of nearly 94 percent.
It also offers a master of science degree in its School of Biomedical Sciences, where there is a graduation rate of nearly 93 percent.