By DUANE M. ELLING
With health care in the U.S. a prime topic of discussion, an initiative in Flint, Michigan is expected to spark new ways of thinking about medical professionals and their relationships with patients, their profession and the communities where they live and work.
It was announced today that Flint will be home to the public health program of Michigan State University's (MSU) College of Human Medicine. The program, launched in 2008 on MSU’s main campus in East Lansing, offers a master’s degree in public health, which students can pair with a doctorate in medicine. That dual degree — the first of its kind in the country — trains physicians to improve the overall well-being of communities by identifying, understanding and addressing the unique health care needs of local families.
|Meeting the unique medical needs of local families will be a key goal of the MSU public health program in Flint.
The program has enrolled 350 students in just three years.
As the program is centered in Flint over the coming months, it is expected to increase — from 60 to 100 — the total number of third- and fourth-year MSU medical students working at any given time in Genesee County. It will also advance the field of public health — locally and nationally — by offering community-based research opportunities in disease prevention and control.
The Flint program’s development is funded, in part, by a $2.8-million grant to MSU from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. That grant reflects the Foundation’s significant ongoing investment in education and the well-being of its hometown.
MSU’s longstanding relationship with the greater Flint community makes the city an ideal home for the public health program, notes University President Lou Anna Simon. Genesee County’s health care system has provided MSU medical students with clinical training and internship opportunities since the 1970s.
“Reflecting its core priorities, Michigan State University is working with community partners across the state to train health care workers and to promote regional prosperity,” said Simon.
“The partnership with the Mott Foundation is an important example. Working in Flint and Genesee County, not only is MSU providing crucial services to residents, but it also is providing unique opportunities for students both in public health and medical education.”
Flint is one of two Michigan cities chosen by MSU to host its flagship medical school programs. The headquarters for the College of Human Medicine was moved to Grand Rapids in 2010.
The public health program is expected to be located in Flint’s downtown area, making it part of the city’s growing higher education community. Other institutions downtown are Kettering University, Mott Community College and the University of Michigan-Flint — all are Mott grantees.
While the master’s degree coursework is completed entirely online, medical students will be encouraged to take their required month-long practicum at a Flint area hospital, community agency or the Genesee County Health Department.
Marsha Rappley, dean of MSU’s medical school, says the program will bring up to seven federally funded researchers to Flint. Those staff will work on key health issues in Flint, with the findings helping to inform public health efforts around the country.
An MSU/Flint Community Research Advisory Committee will help guide and develop the public health program.
“With a group of excellent partners and a strong philanthropic community, our new advisory committee will establish a menu of public health research needs for Flint and enable us to recruit researchers to help find best practices to address these areas of need,” said Rappley.
Patrick Wardell, president and CEO of Hurley Medical Center in Flint, is excited that the program will grow a pipeline of physicians and researchers trained in a public health approach. Recent studies suggest a national shortage of primary care physicians by 2020, while the American Medical Association has called for more physicians among people of color, and more health care for underserved populations.
Hurley is among the local hospitals and other community partners, including the health department, that are represented on the advisory committee.
Wardell says the program’s unique educational and research opportunities will help make Flint an attractive choice for medical students across the country. Those students, along with program staff and researchers, will contribute to the local economy and may ultimately choose to stay in the community.
"Having the program in Flint will add to the intellectual atmosphere already present here and enhance Flint's growing reputation as a university town,” he said. “And the curriculum, with its strong emphasis on public health and patient care, will expose medical students to an outstanding academic and training experience.”
The Flint community is expected to play an active role in the public health program’s ongoing development. Representatives from the college and local health care system will work with area organizations, including from the public health and nonprofit sectors, to identify health-related trends and priorities.
That input will help guide the program’s curriculum, practice and research, and will ultimately support better decisions about public health policy and funding in the greater Flint area, says Mark Valacak, health officer at the Genesee County Health Department.
He also notes that bringing more health care practitioners and researchers to Flint could significantly impact the community’s overall well-being.
“Understanding and preventing disease helps to keep people healthier overall, which reduces the costs of health care and helps to create a more stable and productive community,” said Valacak.
“The MSU program will help us to make sure that all residents, including those who are most at risk of diseases and who might be otherwise underserved, get the care they need to be healthy and stay healthy.”