Launching Med School Satellites

Partnerships in Bowling Green, Morehead and Northern Kentucky grow UK’s doctor training program

By Debra Gibson Isaacs

A rendering of the satellite campus of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine-Bowling Green. Construction is scheduled  for completion by the summer of 2018.
A rendering of the satellite campus of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine-Bowling Green. Construction is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2018.

Members of the inaugural class of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine satellite campus in Bowling Green will begin their medical education on July 30, a milestone event that will allow more Kentuckians to earn medical degrees and help address an ongoing shortage of physicians in rural areas of the state.

The new campus – a collaboration between the UK Medical School, Western Kentucky University and The Medical Center at Bowling Green – is the first of three satellite medical campuses UK is creating.

The second satellite campus will be in Northern Kentucky and is a collaboration among UK, Northern Kentucky University and St. Elizabeth Healthcare. The Northern Kentucky campus will accept students in 2019. UK expects to name the head of this program soon.

The third satellite campus – this one in Morehead – is set to ramp up later in 2020, and will expand UK’s existing Rural Physician Leadership Program there to a four-year curriculum. This campus is a collaboration among the UK med school, Morehead State University, St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead and King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland.

Dr. Anthony Weaver, an assistant dean with the UK College of Medicine, heads the Rural Physician Leadership Program, which began in fall 2011. Based in Morehead State’s Center for Health, Education and Research, its participants receive their final two years of med school training and classes in a rurally oriented setting.

Currently, the UK College of Medicine enrolls 547 students, including 139 in the most recently admitted class of 2020. The Lexington campus is at capacity.

However, the need for additional physicians in Kentucky continues to increase. The 2017 Kentucky Physician Workforce Profile ranked Kentucky 36th for active physicians per 100,000 population. In 2016 there were 10,158 physicians, including 3,467 primary care doctors, to care for a population of just over 4.4 million people, according to the report.

With this disparity between physician supply and demand, UK has been looking for ways to educate more doctors, particularly Kentucky residents more likely to remain in the state after graduation.

“Although there is a deep applicant pool for medical students, the college can’t expand enrollment without the help of regional partners,” said Dr. Robert DiPaola, dean of the UK College of Medicine. “This series of partnerships expands throughout Kentucky and will benefit everyone across the commonwealth.

“This signals a new beginning in the efforts to train more physicians in Kentucky, for Kentucky, and especially a new beginning for our future students as they embark on this journey and career in medicine.”

The partnerships will help ensure Kentucky remains competitive as health-care changes, he said.

Each new site will be a fully functioning four-year campus, according to DiPaola. They will use curriculum and assessments identical to those used at the Lexington campus. On-site faculty will have UK College of Medicine appointments, teach in small groups and provide simulation and standardized patient experiences. Basic science and early didactic training will be taught in conjunction with faculty at WKU through both onsite classes and lectures delivered on site from Lexington.

On the Hill

In Bowling Green, longtime UK faculty member and administrator Dr. Todd Cheever, a psychiatrist by training, will serve as the first associate dean for the Bowling Green campus. Cheever has been associate dean for student affairs the past 16 years. Dr. Don Brown, a vascular surgeon and Bowling Green physician who also serves as director of medical education at The Medical Center in Bowling Green, will be assistant dean for the Bowling Green campus.

“We think Bowling Green and Southcentral Kentucky has a lot to offer,” Cheever said. “We are recruiting a number of applicants who think of this area as home. Bowling Green also has a large immigrant population, particularly from Bosnia. This gives us a unique opportunity to work with patient populations not found in other parts of Kentucky and to go out into the community and do service learning. We are working on opportunities that will be specific to Bowling Green and south-central Kentucky.”

Cheever said the Bowling Green campus will also have a different feel.

“There are 136 students (per yearly cohort) in the Lexington class,” he said. “We will only have 30 students at a time. Our campus will have a more intimate feel it, a family feel. We will get to know our 30 students really well, and the students will get to know our staff and administrators really well.”

For students from the western half of the state, the new program also means the opportunity to remain close to home.

“I think there are a lot of reasons that future students should be excited about the Bowling Green campus,” Cheever said. “The biggest is students from our particular part of the state will be able to go to medical school and hopefully practice medicine in their communities without having to leave where they’re from.”

“The Bowling Green campus was designed to both grow the medical school class size and increase the number of physicians in the commonwealth, while also teaching them more specifically how to care for their own.”

Last June officials broke ground on a new facility on the WKU campus, which will be used for program. Construction is now in the final phase.

The new program fits nicely into area priorities.

In 2008, Bowling Green community and business leaders as well as WKU faculty and staff identified healthcare as one of four regional priorities for south-central Kentucky. Doug McElroy, associate vice president for enrichment and effectiveness at WKU, said this new partnership benefits not just students, but faculty as well.

“The UK College of Medicine – Bowling Green Campus represents a potentially transformative step in addressing the identified healthcare needs in this part of the commonwealth,” McElroy said.

“Students can come to WKU knowing the opportunity exists for them to earn their baccalaureate degree, undertake medical education and pursue their careers as medical professionals all within south-central Kentucky.

“Our faculty will have the opportunity to deploy their expertise in new and exciting ways, while contributing to improving to access to health care and quality of life in the communities in which they live.” 

“We’re training people in Kentucky, for Kentucky, that’s the plan,” said Dr. Don Brown, assistant dean for the UK College of Medicine – Bowling Green campus. “It’s been a dream for a few; now it’s a dream of many people, and to see it actually come to fruition is very exciting.”

For more information, including details on how to apply, visit meded.med.uky.edu/bowling-green.

Demographics driving demand

Demographics – specifically, population growth and aging – continue to be the primary driver increasing demand from 2015 to 2030, according to a report titled “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2015 to 2030.”

The report states: “During this period, the U.S. population is projected to grow by close to 12 percent, from about 321 million to 359 million. The population under age 18 is projected to grow by only 5 percent, while the population aged 65 and over is projected to grow by 55 percent. Because seniors have much higher per capita consumption of healthcare than younger populations, the percentage growth in demand for services used by seniors is projected to be much higher than the percentage growth in demand for pediatric services.”


Debra Gibson Isaacs is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]

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