LSU, Lafayette in talks on expanding medical school program

LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans is considering offering a three-year medical school program in Lafayette to produce more new doctors for the state, the school’s chancellor said Wednesday.

Dr. Larry Hollier was in Lafayette on Wednesday at the request of City-Parish President Joey Durel to discuss the feasibility of offering medical school training in Lafayette.

Some LSU medical school students interested in practicing as primary care physicians in rural areas currently spend the final two of their four years of education in Lafayette.

Hollier said LSU is considering condensing the four-year instruction and training program into three years in Lafayette and expanding capacity from 20 medical school students to 40.

“We believe that we could consolidate the curriculum to give them the entire curriculum in three years and they’d be ready to start a primary care residency,” Hollier said in a phone interview after his meeting with Durel and other local officials, hospital executives and doctors.

The meeting was closed to news reporters, though publicized by state treasurer John Kennedy, who has pushed publicly for a medical school in Lafayette.

Hollier said three-year programs aren’t unusual and LSU has been exploring the option.

“We’re interested in whatever we can do to increase the health care workforce in this state,” Hollier said.

Durel said he organized the meeting after reading one of Kennedy’s pitches for a medical school for Lafayette in a newspaper and because it’s been discussed in community circles for years.

“I thought we can talk forever, but at some point, we have to elevate this conversation,” Durel said. “I called Dr. Hollier and asked if he would mind coming to talk about what the possibilities, realities and impediments would be.”

Durel said the focus isn’t necessarily to open a new medical school, but rather to provide another training option in Lafayette to medical students.

“When you talk about the state’s budget and colleges getting less and less money and you talk about a new school, it sounds more threatening,” Durel said. “While we have the word school attached to it, it’s more of a change in programming.”

Kennedy attended Wednesday’s meeting and said a new medical school in Lafayette is needed to address the state’s physician shortage.

The issue is complicated by the number of retiring physicians because not enough new doctors choose to stay in Louisiana, he said.

“We’re not replenishing the physicians who are retiring,” he said. “We have three medical schools. We graduate about 450 kids a year, but many of them don’t stay in Louisiana. The only way to fill that need is to start a new med school. This new med school would not take away students or money from anybody else. It would add to — not take away.”

Durel said the idea is still in its infancy, but could be fairly easy to accomplish given the resources available in Lafayette since LSU medical students and new doctors already train here.

The state’s medical schools are at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and at Tulane University.

When asked about the new medical school concept, Hollier said Lafayette and Baton Rouge are already designated as remote or regional campuses of LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

In Lafayette, LSU medical school faculty oversee the training of medical school students at University Hospital & Clinics and, for the past year, at Lafayette General Medical Center. The private hospital became a medical training site after it took over operations of the former University Medical Center, now UHC, last year.

“The only thing this would do is reorganize the program, so we could consolidate the curriculum in Lafayette into the three-year program,” Hollier said. “The obvious issue is how do you fund it. We do not believe this is something that could be funded through state general funds. It would have to be a regional funding source to get this done.”

Durel said he plans to call another meeting with area parish presidents and a few members of the Acadiana legislative delegation to work through questions about funding.

“It will require some money, so we have to figure out all the different possibilities of where that money could come from,” Durel said. “We have to find a way to fund it without asking the state to fund it.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.