LSU seeks medical school expansion in Baton Rouge

LSU is asking a national accrediting agency to allow it to operate a Baton Rouge branch of its New Orleans-based medical school.

It’s the first step toward having a full-blown medical school campus in Baton Rouge as LSU looks to train more physicians to address in-state shortages.

If approved, a phase-in would begin as early as July with some more senior medical school students based in Baton Rouge.

LSU’s New Orleans-based medical education programs moved to Baton Rouge after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, sparking talk of a permanent move in some circles. LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier said the current move is all about expansion.

Hollier said ultimately he would like to see a Baton Rouge medical school campus with 400 students — 100 in each class — pursuing medical degrees. The New Orleans medical school has 800 students today.

“There’s a massive demand, interest in kids who want to go to medical school. I just don’t have the physical space to train more in New Orleans,” Hollier said.

The school gets about 3,000 applications for the 200 student spots open annually.

Also lacking is the case volume of patients needed for an expanded medical school program in New Orleans, he said.

“If you look at Baton Rouge, there’s a great opportunity to expand significantly,” Hollier said.

A convergence of factors have played a role in the expansion plan.

LSU’s public-private partnership with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center not only provides a training ground of physicians, but also a new state-of-the-art medical education building and equipment on the hospital campus off Essen Lane.

“It’s the largest hospital in the state — 770 beds and they are expanding,” Hollier said.

“We already have a big nucleus of teachers available,” said Hollier, noting relationships with Pennington Biomedical Research Center and LSU’s main campus as well as the veterinary school.

Pennington served as a temporary home for medical education programs in the wake of damage Hurricane Katrina caused on the New Orleans campus.

“We could start a medical school program in Baton Rouge that’s cost-effective and produces a whole new group of medical students,” Hollier said.

LSU filed an application with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in mid-August to establish the Baton Rouge branch campus. Officials expect the committee to take the issue up at its October meeting.

The committee is the nationally recognized accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the doctor of medicine degree in the United States and Canada.

“The number one thing they are interested in is the education provided comparable to what they are getting in New Orleans,” said Dr. Steve Nelson, LSUHSC-New Orleans medical school dean.

“With the infrastructure and relationships we have, this would be the case.”

Nelson said the branch campus is a logical first step.

“It’s a very positive thing for Baton Rouge. It’s a strengthening of our presence in Baton Rouge,” he said.

Plans call initially for some third- and fourth-year medical school students to be at a new Baton Rouge branch — between 30 and 35 students in each year. In those years, the emphasis is on clinical training.

Some first- and second-year students would join them in the following years.

“We could have an entire campus by the fourth year,” Hollier said. “I’m hoping to get there in four years.”

Students who want to do all their training in Baton Rouge will have an opportunity to do that. If too many apply, there would be a lottery for spots.

LSU’s Dr. Richard DiCarlo said the application for Baton Rouge branch status was easy to put together because of all the resources available in the city to support the educational enterprise.

Medical students are not new to Baton Rouge.

“We have had a lot of students in Baton Rouge for about 30 years. We have done a lot of clinical training up there for 30 years,” said DiCarlo, assistant dean for undergraduate education.

He said students have been sent to Baton Rouge on four-, six- and eight-week rotations in various clinical specialties, such as internal medicine, surgery and obstetrics.

“We have not had everything in place where they could spend their entire junior or senior year up there,” DiCarlo said.

“Baton Rouge has been very much involved in medical education but it did not fit the definition of a branch campus until now.”

“We are excited about it. Baton Rouge has a lot of great faculty. It gives them recognition, status they did not have before,” DiCarlo said.