UPDATE: Proposed Syracuse University medical school to specialize in veteran healthcare

As the U.S. healthcare industry continues to expand and undergo reform, medical schools across the country have begun focusing on preparing graduates to meet the demands of a changing health care system.

Syracuse University’s recent proposal to open a medical school specializing in veterans’ health care is reflective of the nationwide effort.

Kevin Quinn, the university’s senior vice president for public affairs, cited several benefits to the creation of a veteran-focused medical school at Syracuse University, including the possibility of helping reverse the severe doctor shortage severely plaguing the veteran community in recent years.

“A medical school with this unique niche would build on Syracuse University’s long-standing and growing national leadership role focused on serving veterans and their families and attract national and global interdisciplinary jobs, investment, and resources to the Central New York region,” said Quinn. “It would also address an urgent need at a time when the critical physician shortage nationwide that disproportionately affects our veterans  . . . is only likely to get worse as that population ages.”

While physician shortages are effecting multiple communities across the country, resources among the VA system and its 152 hospitals are strained even more so due to a rapidly growing patient population made up of aging Vietnam War veterans and younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Syracuse.com.

Although the creation of a medical school on Syracuse University’s main campus is still in the exploratory phase, if university leaders choose to proceed with the project, the school would be the first college of medicine in the country to specialize in veterans’ health care and provide health services specific to military families, according to a university press release.

Students enrolled in the proposed school would be required complete their medical degrees and residencies at a VA hospital out of state and would receive unique medical training, which would prepare them to address the needs of the country’s veteran population specifically.

Zachary Lanzar, a Syracuse University student and New York native, said the new school, if built, could greatly expand access to healthcare in the region. He believes the local community will support the project.

“I am completely supportive of this decision to build a medical school aimed at catering to the veteran population,” said Lanzar. “Living near Fort Drum, N.Y. has indirectly involved the military in my life since a young age with many of my close friends having parents that have served or are currently serving in the military. I have seen the struggles that many post-war veterans endure and believe that building a veterans’ hospital in central New York will provide adequate services to the military families in and around the surrounding areas.”

While university officials said the idea has received support from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, the proposal faces some opposition from the administration at nearby SUNY Upstate Medical University, who argue the addition of another medical school in the region would increase competition for already limited resources and strain close ties between SUNY Upstate and the local Syracuse VA Medical Center.

But Syracuse University officials have promised SUNY Upstate Medical University officials that the medical school, if built, would not compete with Upstate’s residencies at the local Syracuse VA Medical Center, but this presents the problem of where students of Syracuse’s proposed school would gain their clinical experience, which the university has yet to determine.

Cost is also a key factor if the project is to advance. A new medical school, on average, can costbetween $50 and $100 million.

Maggie Sharma, a student studying neuroscience and biology at Syracuse University, noted the medical school could bring needed opportunity to the university as a whole. However, she is curious to see if students would incur an increase in tuition in order for administration to finance the project.

“I think it’s great that a medical school on campus is being considered . . . the science programs could use more support and it would be nice knowing there is more potential for growth on campus,” said Sharma. “Location and funding are probably going to be the biggest challenges when attempting to build this school. I’d be interested to see if it affected the undergraduate tuition rate.”

The university has yet to estimate the cost of the new school or where it would be located on campus, but university officials hope the idea will be selected for Gov. Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative project, a program aimed at revitalizing the Upstate New York economy by providing $500 million in state money over five years to invest in projects designed to produce jobs.

Yet, even if the idea is not selected for the development program, Paul Umbach, a community health planning expert doing consulting work for Syracuse University on the proposed medical college, said in an interview with Syracuse.com that schools like the university’s proposed college of medicine that set themselves apart from other medical schools “producing doctors for the masses,” have a higher chance of being established.

Kelby K. Clark is a student at Rutgers University and a summer 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.