Marian University introduces lead donor for Catholic medical school

September 15, 2011

Marian University in Indiana expects to open a new medical school in 2013, making it just the fifth Catholic medical school in the nation, and the first Catholic college for osteopathic physicians.

Officials at the Indianapolis-based private university say interest in the $160 million plan has been high as the country debates health care reform and how to train more doctors to assist an aging population, underserved communities and the roughly 30 million people who could be added to health insurance rolls under anticipated system overhauls.

Marian's school will train about 150 medical students in its first year, adding 150 more each year into 2016, for a total of 600 students in the school at a time. They'll earn a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, or DO. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes both colleges of osteopathic medicine and colleges of medicine as schools to train doctors.

Mind, body, spirit
Osteopathic doctors take a holistic approach to medicine, and that mind, body, spirit connection seemed a good match for a university with a Franciscan tradition. "Our Catholic faith, Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic social teaching do not change medical science," but can enhance care, explained university President Daniel J. Elsener. Marian is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis Oldenburg; Elsener said the medical school's religious ties will help shape its culture.

In addition to rigorous medical training, studies also will focus on the sanctity of human life, ethical issues and ways to reach out to vulnerable populations. "There is a Catholic view of the person that sheds light on how we care for people, why we care for people," Elsener said.

Marian officials describe a difference in philosophy between DOs and MDs, saying osteopathic physicians tend to go into primary care — an area of care where doctors are needed — and are trained to assess a patient's physical symptoms in context with their mental and spiritual condition. Both DO and MD schools provide four years of medical training, and students then go on to residency and can specialize. Both DOs and MDs must pass the same exams to practice medicine with a license, from general practice to surgery.

The Indiana Osteopathic Association selected Marian as a partner to create the new school last year. Because of concerns about a national shortage of physicians, the association had been seeking to open a new college for several years.

It's projected by the American Academy of Family Physicians that the United States will have an estimated shortfall of 40,000 primary care doctors by 2020, as many doctors choose higher-paying specialties instead.

Studies in Indiana, where there is currently only one medical school (at Indianapolis' Indiana University), already have shown the state could use more doctors. Purdue University researchers in 2008 found there was only one physician for every 470 Indiana residents. And the 10 Indiana counties with the worst access to doctors were very rural. Marian will give preference to Indiana residents at its school. It expects the program will improve doctor access in rural areas in time. Tuition for the Marian program initially will be $37,500 a year, lower than the national average for private medical schools.

A generous donation
Late last month, Marian announced a new building on campus housing the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the School of Nursing. The building will be named the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences. Evans is the president and chief executive of AIT Laboratories in Indianapolis, a company that provides lab tests like those that help doctors make sure their patients are taking the proper medications and doses, as well as forensic tests and other services.

Evans has donated $48 million to the new medical school. He at first gave the funds anonymously, but then agreed to be identified because the university wanted to recognize the donation and felt it might encourage others to donate. "It wasn't about having my name on the building. I've been blessed," Evans said. "This donation is about health care. It is about education. These are things I believe in, that will continue long beyond (the time) I'm here."

The Indiana native, who was wounded by sniper fire in 1969 when he was an Army staff sergeant in Vietnam, said his past serious injuries helped him realize he didn't want to waste his time, he wanted to use it. Evans, a Catholic, said he's always believed in giving back. In 2009, he transferred ownership of his company to his nearly 500 employees in an employee stock ownership plan, a successful decision financially and one that he said protected employees' jobs.

Evans' wife, Andrea Terrell, attended Marian and is on the board of trustees there. Evans, who holds a doctorate in toxicology from the Indiana University School of Medicine, said he thinks the state of Indiana could benefit greatly by having more trained osteopathic doctors. He likes the holistic approach DOs take, and their tradition of working with underserved populations and in rural areas.

"Our problem in this country is not that we don't have the best health care. We do. It's in delivering that health care to people," he said. Marian's program will increase the number of doctors trained in Indiana medical schools by 50 percent, he said.

Science and stained glass
The Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Paul Evans, explained that the university's Catholic tradition and commitment to scientific learning are reflected in the design of the $55 million building, which is being funded entirely through private donations. The university's larger five-year, $160 million plan includes a library and science program expansion. Thus far, the school has raised $82 million.

Medical and nursing students will have classes in the Michael A. Evans Center and train together, an approach intended to teach the importance of teamwork in patient care. The building will include many high-tech features, like rooms that resemble hospital settings and medical mannequins that can simulate illness and health conditions. A chapel with a large stained glass cross will be a focal point of the building.

Other Indiana organizations have donated toward the new medical school. St. Vincent Health and Community Health Network, two Indianapolis health systems, each have given $5 million gifts. Michael G. Browning, a real estate developer, and the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation have given $1 million each. The medical bed and technology maker Hill-Rom has given $1 million and equipment.

St. Vincent Health, a member of St. Louis-based Ascension Health, already partners with the Marian nursing school in an online accelerated bachelor of nursing degree program. Andrea Fagan, a spokesperson for Marian, said eventually St. Vincent will provide clerkships and other on-site training opportunities for third- and fourth-year medical students.

Marvin White, the chief financial officer of St. Vincent Health and a Marian board member, said the outside commitments will help educate the medical students. "To build a high-performing program focused on educating future physicians, there is a significant need for corporate, individual and community support," White said in a statement.

Marian is moving toward accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission with the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, or COCA. Once the college receives provisional accreditation from COCA, it will begin recruiting students. The school remains in COCA's provisional accreditation stage until the first class of osteopathic students graduates, as is standard practice.

Dean Paul Evans, himself an osteopathic physician, calls the new medical school a "game changer" for Indiana, but also a fitting extension of how Marian has always educated students. "The tradition of the school is teaching, healing and pastoral care," he said.

Catholic medical schools in the U.S.

Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, Neb.

Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.

Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Chicago

Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.