U of I president recommends approval of Urbana medical school

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The University of Illinois Board of Trustees will be asked Thursday to approve a new engineering-focused college of medicine on the Urbana-Champaign campus that would foster high-tech innovation to meet changing health care needs of the 21st century.

President Robert Easter told the board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee Wednesday that he would recommend trustees approve the small new medical school, which was proposed last year to promote breakthroughs in treatment and equipment by integrating technology into medical training and research. Trustees are scheduled to consider Easter’s recommendation at their meeting in Urbana Thursday.

In November, trustees directed Easter to study the proposed medical school, which would be created in partnership with Urbana-based Carle Health System, as well as a counterproposal from the UIC College of Medicine calling for a bioengineering research institute at UIUC affiliated with the existing medical school that would have pursued technology-based advances in partnership with UIUC’s College of Engineering. The UIC proposal also would have integrated engineering and technology into training for all of the university’s 1,300 medical students.

Easter told the committee that he recommended creating the new medical school after considering the proposal for more than a year and consulting with officials on both campuses; the University Senates Conference, an advisory panel comprised of faculty senators from all three campuses; and the Huron Group, a global management consulting company that assisted in a reorganization that will align UIC’s academic and clinical enterprises.

“Many describe the intersection of engineering and medicine as the next frontier of scientific advancement,” Easter said. “I believe the proposed medical school has the potential to make UIUC a global leader in this emerging field and to have a profound impact on both health-care delivery in this country and on economic development in this region and beyond.”

Easter said the innovation-focused medical school in Urbana will complement the UIC College of Medicine, which is the nation’s largest and a leader in clinical training, producing about 300 graduates annually and one of every six doctors practicing in Illinois. Combined, he said, the medical schools will better position the university to serve the needs of students and the state.

If trustees approve Easter’s recommendation, the UIUC campus would be asked to begin planning to launch the new college and provide a progress report to the board at its May 7 meeting in Springfield.

Implementation issues include:

  • the future of the existing regional medical campus at UIUC, a branch of the UIC College of Medicine that trains about 100 first-year medical students every year and about 120 students in a Medical Scholars program that provides both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in other disciplines
  • finalizing a formal financial agreement with Carle, which has pledged $100 million over 10 years to support the new college. If for any reason an agreement with Carle cannot be reached, Easter recommends that UIUC not seek a new partner or pursue a separately accredited medical school in Urbana.
  • developing a governance structure for the new college that would facilitate collaboration between the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses.

UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise proposed the new medical school more than a year ago, in partnership with Carle. It would combine traditional doctor’s training with engineering, computer science and technology to foster innovation that provides better care at lower cost through new medical devices and procedures.

Preliminary plans call for enrolling the first 25 students in 2017 and increasing admissions gradually to 50 a year by 2023-24, when the college would educate more than 200 students annually.

A financial plan shows that the college could operate without state support and would be established through funding from Carle and $135 million in gifts from donors.

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