Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine

A rendering shows what the Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine in Gaylord could look like once its completed. The proposed school's construction includes renovating the old Sibley East elementary building. A pre-accreditation hearing for the college comes in late April ahead of a potential 2020 opening. Rendering courtesy of Oleson + Hobbiee Architects

GAYLORD — The medical school proposed in Gaylord is primed for a January construction start at the old Sibley East elementary school building.

The site work will be the project's first step in what should be a consequential 2019.

The pre-accreditation process will begin in the spring, which could clear the way for the Minnesota College of Osteopathic Medicine in Gaylord to start taking admissions ahead of a 2020 opening.

Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, who will be dean of the planned school, said the college will be designed to attract and retain future doctors to Minnesota.

“Evidence clearly states if you have a medical school in the state, the people trained in that program tend to stay in the region,” she said.

The retention odds increase even more if pupils complete their residencies in state.

“Our goal is they will indeed select residency programs in Minnesota, because if they do, the likelihood they’ll stay and practice in Minnesota is significantly increased,” Ross-Lee said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges measures this, finding 68 percent of doctors who completed all their training in one state ended up practicing there. Fears of physician shortages, especially in rural areas, mean states have an interest in retaining trained medical professionals.

Backed by locals, the medical school has been in the works for years. Momentum picked up this year, with the City Council granting tax relief for the upcoming renovations over the summer.

Mayor Don Boeder said he sees the project as an opportunity to attract more people and businesses to the area. He said the timing works out well, as the medical school project needed a building and the old school was available.

“We’re 100 percent behind it,” he said. “It’s not just going to help Gaylord; it’s going to help other towns as well.”

The school building won’t necessarily need to be gutted for its future use, but a wiring overhaul is required to accommodate the technological nature of medical education.

“Only because it’s an older school — an elementary and middle school at some point — so we’re going to need to do a lot of wiring,” Ross-Lee said.

Ross-Lee, who helped open a rural medical college in Arkansas among other projects, said the Gaylord college would be the first osteopathic school in Minnesota once approved. Osteopathic physicians differ slightly from traditional medical doctors in focusing on preventive medicine and a whole-body approach.

Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota both have medical schools, but Ross-Lee said the school in Gaylord would differ from them in its focus on training primary care physicians.

“Our focus is on general, primary care physicians, so we complement each other,” she said.

The team behind the college is working on partnerships with health systems to create clinical clerkship and residency opportunities. Students would largely be in classrooms for the first two years followed by the clinical clerkships at hospitals in year three and electives in specialty areas in the fourth year. 

A graduate medical education program could be added later, depending on the accreditation process. Ross-Lee said gaining pre-accreditation will be the most important, upcoming step for the project, as it would allow them to start taking admissions in 2019.

“We’re really excited we’re starting to hire faculty the first of the year,” she said. “We expect by September we’ll be in full force ready to accept students and move ahead.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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