Allina, St. Thomas boards authorize feasibility study of new medical school

Allina, St. Thomas boards authorize feasibility study of new medical school

The executive committee of Allina Hospitals & Clinics and the Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas have authorized the two institutions to study the feasibility of creating a new medical school to train primary care physicians for Minnesota.

Authorization to proceed with the feasibility study came yesterday at St. Thomas and on Wednesday at Allina.

“Our board realized that, while complex, this could be an extraordinary opportunity to forge a bold and innovative new model of medical education,” said Dick Pettingill, president and chief executive officer of Allina. “Few health care leaders dispute that there is a looming physician shortage, and Allina and St. Thomas are uniquely positioned to address this dire need.”

“St. Thomas has always been a leader in developing ground-breaking programs to meet the needs of our students and our communities,” said the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. “Our board understands the need for more primary care physicians to serve Minnesota and has authorized this study to better understand whether St. Thomas can play a meaningful role in addressing it.”

Penny Wheeler, M.D., Allina’s chief clinical officer, said the vision for a new medical school is to complement – and not compete with – existing programs at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Health System.

“We have exceptional programs in Minnesota that emphasize research and specialty care. We’re not envisioning trying to replicate that expertise but, rather, to build a new educational model that emphasizes clinical practice,” said Wheeler.

The number of medical school students in Minnesota has remained steady for the past decade. Only about half of medical school graduates establish practices in the state.

Shortages in primary care are particularly acute. From 2000 to 2004 the number of primary care physicians in Minnesota grew by only 20, while the supply of other specialty care physicians rose by 129. Currently, Minnesota graduates cannot fill the existing primary care residency slots in the Twin Cities. Two-thirds of primary care residents in the Twin Cities are from other states, and that is why many do not stay in Minnesota to practice.

Wheeler says a new model of medical school could help address this problem through both its selection process and creating financial or other incentives to practice in Minnesota.

“We’d envision focusing on admitting students with a close connection to Minnesota – those who want to stay here and serve this community,” she said. “While we would recruit the best and brightest, we also would seek to admit students who have a strong commitment to primary care practice in this state. Selection, combined with other incentives, could dramatically increase the number of students staying to practice in Minnesota.”

The feasibility study is expected to take three to four months. It will analyze key issues such as the market need, finances, governance, staging, facility needs and potential philanthropic and community support for a new medical school. When the study is completed, it will be shared with the respective boards at Allina and St. Thomas. At that time, next steps will be identified.

Allina, a not-for-profit system, owns and operates 11 hospitals, 65 clinics, hospice services, pharmacies and emergency medical transportation services in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, with more than 2.5 million patient visits a year. For more information, see