Proposed Medical School Expansion May Need Private Donations

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COLUMBIA - A multi-million dollar proposal to expand the University of Missouri School of Medicine to Springfield may require significant private donations to complete, an official said Monday.

Though the proposal focuses on teaching at two Springfield hospitals, Weldon Webb, the associate dean for rural health, said the proposal would require a new $30 million building on the Columbia campus to accommodate about a 33 percent increase in students per year here. The proposal calls for 32 additional admissions into each medical school class, and it would partner with the hospitals in Springfield to train third and fourth-year students clinically.

Without much room in the state budget for new funding, however, Webb said the school will likely need $10 to $15 million from private donors for the project.

"I think it will be a challenge," Webb said. "We knew that this year was a tough year and the last couple of years have been tough years economically."

According to a report by the Springfield-Greene County Regional Health Commission, the proposal would generate $56.5 million for Missouri's economy through construction jobs. Webb also said the additional physicians in Missouri's job market would boost the economy.

"Really, the major economic impact is over the next 25 years as you go through training," Webb said. "It's along pipeline and as people go into practice, and there are more people."

As aging Baby Boomers require medical care, Webb also said these extra doctors are necessary to help meet the medical demands of that generation. Dr. Patricia Burke, a pediatrician in Mexico, Mo., said she supports the proposal because of its potential to stabilize medical care in Missouri.

"This certainly seems like a step in the right direction," Burke said. "If we have more physicians trained here, then perhaps more will stay here and help fill the need in the rural communities."