Rebound Idaho: Amid statewide physician shortage, Idaho's only medical school manages pressures of pandemic

Posted at 3:36 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 08:14:22-04

MERIDIAN, Idaho — With Boise State University cutting certain sports programs, and Concordia Law School shuttering completely, it’s no secret the coronavirus is upending the budgets of local colleges and universities.

But one local educational institution with a mission especially relevant to today’s healthcare needs is at particular risk, given its young age: Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM).

“Will students continue to want to come to pursue their education at this time?" said Dr. Tracy J. Farnsworth, President, ICOM.

Founded in 2016, ICOM in Meridian is a private, for-profit medical school. It's also Idaho's first and only locally-based medical school.

“Unlike a lot of our other college institutions, we’re a new college. We don’t have reserves," said Dr. Farnsworth.

As we previously reported, ICOM was able to avoid faculty layoffs or pay reductions thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the CARES Act.

“With this virus, we’ve been slowed. We haven’t been paralyzed," said Dr. Farnsworth.

And good thing for that, because as Dr. Farnsworth describes, it’s arguably never been more important to ensure that Idaho communities have well-trained physicians.

“Idaho and this region are nearly last in the nation in physicians per capita," said Dr. Farnsworth.

According to the Graham Center, the need for doctors will become more dire. As of 2010, Idaho had 864 primary care physicians, but Idaho is projected to need nearly 50% more -- in just a decade.

“We need to go forward with creative workarounds," said Dr. Farnsworth. "We’re pressing forward.”

He added, “We are doing as much teaching as we can in the online virtual environment... But there’s a number of things that can only be delivered and received in a more hands-on, intermittent face-to-face environment."

And those are the things that they are reserving to take place in-person on the college campus -- with safety measures in mind of course.

“We, like everybody else, our aggressive in our use of masks and social distancing, doing all we can to educate while we also protect ourselves," said Dr. Farnsworth.