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Kaiser’s Population Health Medical School Will Start Off Free

Kaiser Permanente's new medical school, which focuses heavily on population health, will offer free tuition for the first five classes of students.

Population health in medical school

Source: Kaiser Permanente

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Kaiser Permanente’s new medical school will offer free tuition for the first five classes that enter the institution, the health system announced this week.

The school, which will focus heavily on integrating population health management strategies into traditional physician education, has received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and plans to open its doors in 2020 in Pasadena, CA.

“Kaiser Permanente is driving to transform health and health care in America, and the School of Medicine will play an important role in this transformation. The school will help shape the future of medical education and train physicians for medical excellence and the total health of their patients,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals.

“The Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine will also reflect our long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion by training diverse physicians to serve the needs of society.”

Four years of tuition will be completely free for anyone entering the school in the first five years of operations, potentially allowing an economically diverse group of prospective physicians to take advantage of the data-driven and evidence-driven approach to training.

READ MORE: How Population Health in Med School Preps Docs for Value-Based Care

The school is planning to admit 48 students to its first class.

“We’ve had the opportunity to build a medical school from the ground up and have drawn from evidence-based educational approaches to develop a state-of-the-art school on the forefront of medical education, committed to preparing students to provide outstanding patient care in our nation’s complex and evolving health care system,” said Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, founding dean and CEO of the school.

“Our students will learn to critically examine factors that influence their patients’ health in their homes, workplaces, schools, and communities – and become effective health advocates for their patients. They will graduate with the knowledge and skills to become visionary leaders in medicine and take on some of the most challenging health issues of our time.”

Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest and most tightly integrated healthcare delivery networks, offering students the opportunity for “longitudinal clinical experiences,” according to a press release.

Students will engage in a case-based curriculum that takes advantage of the health system’s extensive reach.  Kaiser Permanente cares for more than 12.2 million patients across eight states and Washington, DC.

READ MORE: Schooling Docs in Population Health Requires Data, Aligned Incentives

From their first year, students will be matched with practicing clinicians in different specialties for mentorship and exposure to different methods and areas of care.

Technology use will be front and center, the school said, allowing students to become “fluent in data-driven care” and comprehensive patient management from the beginning.  The new medical school building, still under construction, will integrate virtual reality, augmented reality, and other digital training tools.

“Teaching physicians new and collaborative ways to practice medicine is critical to ensuring high-quality care in the future,” said Edward M. Ellison, MD, an executive sponsor and board member for the school and executive medical director, Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

“We believe that the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine will train true leaders in medicine, capitalizing on our unique approach to integrated and team-based care.”

Kaiser Permanente isn’t the only medical school that is hoping to use free tuition to bring students to the door, nor is it the only health system that is expanding its footprint in education.

READ MORE: Dell Medical School’s Big Data Hub to Address Population Health

Geisinger Health System opened its medical school in 2017, although students pay traditional tuition fees to attend.  Located in Scranton, PA, the school offers programs geared towards population health management and precision medicine.

New York University (NYU), however, announced in 2018 that it would cover the costs of tuition for all current and future students in an effort to combat the “overwhelming financial debt” that typically meets new graduates.

NYU asserted that massive student loans are partially responsible for drawing new physicians into higher paying specialties instead of primary care or pediatrics.  The nation is facing an impending physician shortage that is expected to significantly impact access to care.

The university also announced this week that it will be opening a new tuition-free medical school on Long Island, which will focus specifically on training primary care providers.

The NYU Long Island School of Medicine, located in Mineola just across from NYU Winthrop Hospital, will offer an accelerated three-year program at no cost to students.  State officials are still reviewing the accreditation application for the new institution.

Whether or not free tuition can successfully reduce the deficit of primary care providers, these new medical schools have the benefit of building modern, data-driven medical curriculums from the ground up.

Integrating population health management education and EHR literacy into medical schools from the beginning could help to reduce some of the burnout and frustration caused by introducing technology to physicians later in their careers.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has strongly urged medical schools to create curriculums that are rooted in health IT use, working with organizations such as the Regenstreif Institute to promote the addition of real-world EHR data into training.

“Our medical schools are very good at preparing students for the basic and clinical sciences that are essential to providing patient care. However, many residents and young physicians are coming out of medical school with gaps in their ability to practice in the modern health system,” said AMA Vice President for Medical Education Susan Skochelak, MD, in 2017.

“Too often, students enter residency training without the ability to effectively and efficiently work with EHRs, even though they are one of the primary tools physicians use in everyday practice. That is why we have been working with some of the nation’s leading medical schools to develop bold, innovative ways to improve physician training.”

Marrying a population health approach with health IT fluency could be the key to creating medical schools that produce physicians highly equipped to rise to the challenges of the current healthcare environment.

Ensuring that these new physicians enter the field without the anxiety and stress of enormous financial debts could also contribute to creating a sustainable pipeline of clinicians to meet the rising needs of the population.


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