The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) established a clinical campus for its medical students in the Vero Beach area in the fall of 2021. The clinical campus was initially established with Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, and this academic year has expanded to the Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital. VCOM currently has 20 third-year students and ten fourth-year students from Florida receiving education within these two hospitals. Clinical training in the Vero Beach area also includes training within ambulatory practices such as Treasure Coast Community Health and Cleveland Clinic-affiliated primary care practices.
VCOM’s current campuses have over 250 Florida students enrolled. Over 40 third- and fourth-year students are receiving their clinical education in the Jacksonville area. An additional 30 students are currently receiving their clinical education in the Cleveland Clinic hospitals in the region. In the fall of 2024, the number of students in clinical training in these hospitals will grow to 30 third-year students and 20 fourth-year students.
The population growth in the St. Lucie area has been remarkable as Port St. Lucie grew 6 percent between April 2020 and July 2021. The county population has increased by 52,000 over the prior decade and continues to grow at a rate of over 2% each year. The problem facing the area is that the number of primary care providers has not increased at this same rate. Between 65 to 70 percent of VCOM graduates enter primary care, which includes family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology. It is challenging, if not impossible, for a new patient from the Port St. Lucie region to become established with a primary care physician in the area. VCOM has been working with the hospital to recruit VCOM alumni to the area to establish practices and to begin residency programs in primary care.
VCOM also has a solid relationship with the Indian River State College (IRSC) and has an articulation agreement providing graduates of IRSC with an opportunity to be selected for an interview. VCOM is working with Indian River State College to develop and offer a Master of Arts in Biomedical Sciences program on their campus. The program will allow college graduates who wish to return to college to improve their credentials the opportunity to boost their credentials for a medical school application.
There is an extreme shortage of Hispanic medical students across the country. VCOM has Hispanic medical outreach opportunities for its students in the United States as well as the Caribbean and Central America. VCOM and IRSC hope to create an opportunity for change. VCOM has over 9,000 applicants annually for the 650 first-year positions on the four campuses. The articulation agreement guarantees a minimum of 10 graduates from IRSC who meet the academic benchmarks with an opportunity for interview and admission to VCOM. In the future, VCOM seeks to interview more IRSC graduates for admission. We are hoping to recruit students from this area, provide their clinical education in the area, and return them to the county upon graduation for residency.
The responsible way to establish any medical school is to first build the clinical training and residencies for the graduates before establishing a new undergraduate campus. The purpose of VCOM’s recent negotiations with the Indian River County Hospital District is to purchase a building to add resources to support the medical students and the residents who will be training in the Cleveland Clinic hospitals, as well as other healthcare students. We are hoping to reach an agreement so that we may establish classrooms and a simulation center for our students in the clinical years.
VCOM, Cleveland Clinic, and Indian River State College hope to change the access to healthcare, especially in primary care, for the citizens of this region. A date to establish a VCOM medical school campus with IRSC and Cleveland Clinic has not been determined and depends upon many factors including growth of the residency programs to funding. Regardless, VCOM is not here as a visitor, and we are partners with Cleveland Clinic and IRSC for the long game - to assure every citizen in this area has access to a primary care physician in the future.