MSSU exploring steps to create medical school

By Melissa Dunson

A medical-doctorate school could be two to three years away for Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

The Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors gave unanimous approval Friday to Larry McIntire, D.O., to pursue funding sources for and academic approval of a degree program in osteopathic medicine.

McIntire is a Joplin ear, nose and throat physician, and the director of the ear, nose and throat residency program that has been maintained by Freeman Health System in Joplin for 16 years. He formerly served as the chairman of the department of ear, nose and throat medicine at the Kirksville (Mo.) College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The item was not on the agenda, but board President Dwight Douglas said McIntire has been discussing the potential program with new MSSU President Bruce Speck; John Messick, vice president of academic affairs, and Tia Strait, dean of the School of Technology, for some time. Speck said the program was brought to the board Friday as a last-minute item so McIntire could pursue possible funding sources more formally.

McIntire estimates starting the program at Missouri Southern could cost $15 million to $30 million. He and the board agreed philanthropy would have to be heavily involved in the project to make it possible.

That announcement came in the same meeting at which Speck gave a presentation originally given during the school’s economic summit last month. The presentation shows the college has operated with nearly $8 million in budget deficits over the past three years.

Earlier this year, the board gave Speck a mandate to cut $500,000 from the 2008-09 budget. In response to that, Speck announced a 10 percent across-the-board cut in departmental budgets last month, as well as a host of other cost-cutting measures, including university-funded scholarships by $930,000 over the next three years.

McIntire said now that he has the green light from the board, the next step is to talk with the Department of Higher Education about accreditation, and approach regional hospitals to see about their ability to help with clinical training. He said he envisions the medical school accommodating 75 to 100 students a year, and that MSSU wouldn’t have to change any of its undergraduate program offerings to prepare students for the medical doctorate program.

McIntire said a medical school in Joplin would bring people to the area and increase the level of care in the region’s hospitals. It could also help address the growing shortage of physicians in the country that McIntire said is predicted to reach between 85,000 and 250,000 by the year 2020.

Douglas and Speck both stressed that the university is not committing itself to the project, but rather, actively exploring the option of developing the program.

During the meeting, Douglas also announced that the Missouri Southern Foundation just completed an agreement with W. Robert Corley for a seven-figure endowment to be used for unrestricted scholarships. In return, Webster Hall auditorium will be renamed the W. Robert Corley Auditorium. That item also was not on the agenda.

More funds could also be on the way, following a presentation to the board by John Berrey, chairman of both the Quapaw Indian Tribe and the Downstream Casino, just outside of Joplin on the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. Berrey said the tribe wants to be a part of Missouri Southern’s community and wants to use the tribe’s resources, “mental or green,� to benefit the school.

“We mean that, and we want to put our money where our mouth is,� Berrey said. “We want to see if some of our resources could be of use.�

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