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UND School of Medicine proposal has merit

By Staff | Mar 5, 2010

The University of North Dakota Medical School pitched a rather ambitious plan to the State Board of Higher Education last month.

In short, the medical school is requesting a greater level of funding commitment by the state, and, in time, that will mean additional doctors to meet the growing demand for physicians.

Currently, 55 medical students graduate each year from UND, and if the plan is put into motion, it could rise to 71.

Medical school officials as well as health professionals have pointed out that by 2020 the population of North Dakotans age 65 or older will grow from 15 to 23 percent. As a result, there will be an increased demand for physicians.

Of course there already is a demand, especially in rural areas, so talk of increasing the number of graduating doctors at the state’s only medical school is an encouraging sign.

The question is will state lawmakers be receptive to the proposal.

Just over $40 million is appropriated to the medical school every two years and the request would bump it up to nearly $70 million. Those funds would enable the school to hire more physicians to serve as instructors and provide the necessary resources to accommodate more students.

Dave Molmen, chief executive officer of Altru Health System of Grand Forks, was right to say that North Dakotans who graduate from the UND medical school are more likely to practice medicine in the state.

The question is just how many are interested in working in rural areas?

Increasing the number of medical students would be a positive step, and one the state legislature needs to look seriously into. There is not a corner of the state that doesn’t need more doctors, and, given the state’s healthy budget surplus, addressing the physician shortage seems to be a worthwhile investment.

However, it’s important the plan doesn’t just benefit the state’s large hospitals while leaving rural facilities still struggling to find doctors.

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