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Louisiana college pushing for pre-med program.

SORRENTO, La. -- River Parishes Community College is only 5 years old, but it's already moving to establish itself as a stepping stone for future physicians.

Dr. Joe Ben Welch, the chancellor of River Parishes Community College, said he's in the process of developing a new partnership with a proposed private medical school, known as Louisiana University of Medical Sciences. The new medical school expects to start offering classes within 24 months, Welch said.

"We're trying to establish a cohort of about 50 students here that we could put through the community college, and who would then be eligible to apply to the medical school when it opens," Welch said.

At the end of their two years at RPCC, the pre-med students could transfer directly to the proposed medical school and begin work on their doctorate in medicine, Welch said.

"You can take the professional exam that is required to get into medical school without having a baccalaureate degree, and a lot of people opt after their third year of undergraduate work to go on to medical school," he said.

But Welch said that under the proposed program, a student could get a medical degree in six years, by completing two years at RPCC and then studying for four years at the medical school.

The medical school would be set up to train primary-care physicians, not specialists. As part of the program, graduates of the medical school would be required to practice medicine in underserved areas of Louisiana, Welch said.

"It's still some question as to "whether it's actually going to happen or not, but the group pushing this has some good ideas and are doing everything they can to make it happen," Welch said.

The proposed medical school also has some heavy hitters pushing it, including two former Louisiana governors, Buddy Roemer and Dave Treen.

Another political power broker who is backing the new medical school is Louisiana Senate President Don Hines, who happens to be a physician himself.

"Dr. Hines is one of our movers and shakers, he's working to help us obtain funding," said Dr. Rama Mohanty, a Southern University professor and one of the leaders of the fledgling medical school.

Mohanty said current Gov. Kathleen Blanco also is interested in the project, largely because organizers plan to require graduates of the new medical school to practice medicine in underserved areas of Louisiana.

Tuition for the proposed medical school would be $20,000 a year, and students who pay their own tuition would be required to practice in needy areas of Louisiana for at least two years, Mohanty said.

Students could also opt to have the Louisiana University of Medical Sciences pay the tuition for them, but would then have to practice medicine for four years in underserved areas, Mohanty said.

Louisiana already has three medical schools--LSU Medical Schools in New Orleans and Shreveport, and Tulane Medical School in New Orleans.

Welch said River Parishes Community College is not really having to offer any new courses, but will have to expand the number of sections for several key science classes.

"We're not having to modify our curriculum at all, but we do have to schedule more microbiology and more anatomy-physiology and the sciences. The basic change we would make would be in scheduling," Welch said.

Students who enroll in the RPCC pre-med program would pay the same tuition and fees as other students, Welch said.

Meanwhile, Ascension Parish officials are welcoming the partnership as an economic development tool, Welch said. To get the medical school into the parish, the parish officials are offering some space in the Ascension Hospital with rent at a nominal fee, Welch said.

The hospital's medical staff has also met several times with organizers of the new school and is excited about the project, Welch said.
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Author:Dyer, Scott
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 16, 2004
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