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Talks seek to expand clinical rotation opportunities

February 23, 2014 Updated: February 23, 2014 at 4:55 am
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Memorial Hospital may not be the only place in the Pikes Peak region hosting medical students in the coming years.

Discussions are underway with officials from several hospitals and health clinics across El Paso County to host third- and fourth-year medical students when they begin clinical rotations in 2016, said Dr. Erik Wallace, associate dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine's new branch at UCCS.

Specifically, Wallace is looking to strike deals with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, the Air Force Academy, Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson to host medical students.

Those locations would be in addition to Memorial Hospital and its satellite locations, he said.

"The goal is to provide a community-based clinical training experience," Wallace said last week when he was in Colorado Springs for the opening of the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences.

The medical students are expected to arrive in Colorado Springs largely because of University of Colorado Health's 40-year lease of Memorial Hospital, which included $3 million annually for the branch at UCCS.

The CU School of Medicine is expanding its program from 160 students to 184 students, with those expanded slots being funneled to UCCS. The branch will be housed in the fourth floor of the new Lane Center - a space largely filled with administrative offices and student support services.

The strategy for expanding the students' clinical options beyond Memorial Hospital is meant to help track patients between health care models, Wallace said. For example, patients may seek primary care from Peak Vista but may also visit Memorial Hospital's emergency room - creating the need for a broader range of rotations.

"We want our students to be able to follow them wherever they go to get their health care services," Wallace said.

Doctors in the region have hailed the move as a good first step in helping to address the dearth of primary care doctors.

Though myriad factors have contributed to the shortage - including poor reimbursement rates compared to specialties - the lack of medical training opportunities in the Pikes Peak region has been a factor, observers say.

While the UCCS branch doesn't entail residencies - the next step for students after medical school - hospitals typically tend to offer such programs once nearby clinical rotations are established, said Richard Krugman, the medical school's dean.

"Residencies will follow, I'm sure, within the next five years," Krugman said. "It's pretty exciting."

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