In a move aimed at easing the looming doctor shortage, Greenville Hospital System and the University of South Carolina are in the early stages of a plan to expand the medical school campus in Greenville to train more physicians for the state.
With a projected shortfall of 125,000 physicians by 2025, officials estimate the nation needs 30 percent more doctors to care for a growing and aging population.
And South Carolina ranks 37th among the states in the number of physicians per 100,000 residents, said Dr. Jerry Youkey, vice president for medical and academic services at GHS. But because USC is at capacity, class sizes can't be increased, he said.
Some third- and fourth-year medical students do their clinical rotations at Greenville Hospital Systerm now after spending their first two years of medical school at USC in Columbia. Under the proposal, GHS would be a campus for all four years of medical training, Youkey said.
The first class would take about 40 medical students and eventually grow to about 100, Youkey said, adding that USC turns away about 100 qualified applicants each year. That would translate to about 30 percent more doctors, he said, adding physicians generally stay in the state where they went to medical school.
"We need to increase the number of medical students, and our options are to expand USC or find another venue," he said. "The manpower issues have come to the point where we're starting to get formally involved in the process."
With its new Research, Education and Innovation building on Grove Road unoccupied, GHS has the perfect venue for classes, he said. Moreover, it already has 350 physicians who have USC faculty appointments for clinical rotations.
So only about 15 to 20 new faculty members would be needed to teach basic science classes for the first- and second-year students, Youkey said.
"South Carolina is already experiencing a severe physician shortage, and the current system cannot produce enough physicians quickly enough," said USC President Harris Pastides. "By expanding our existing physician education and training in Greenville, we can help train and retain more physicians throughout the entire state."
The proposal also calls for incentives to encourage medical students to become primary care physicians, who are among the most in demand, he said.
Pursuing the plan was approved by GHS's board of trustees Tuesday. Youkey said the next step is assembling a task force to devise a proposal, which then must be approved by the GHS and USC boards, before being submitted to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the national accrediting body for medical schools.
If approved, the first class could begin as early as 2012 and graduate in 2016, he said.
Michael Riordan, chief executive officer of GHS, said having an adequate number of physicians is critical to delivering quality health care, and it's the responsibility of the hospital and university to meet the needs of the community.
The project is expected to cost $25 million to $27 million over several years, but federal stimulus funds may be available to help, Youkey said. Though no state money would be used, he said USC would provide some services it already offers students, such as the registrar's office. Once tuition is charged, the project could break even by about 2019, he said.
"For 20 years, we have not changed the number of medical students being educated in the country," Youkey said. "We believe this really needs to be done."