Texas university explores offering an MD degree in addition to its DO program

The osteopathic community says an allopathic program at the University of North Texas would undermine focus on the "whole body" approach.

By Brian Hedger — Posted April 27, 2009

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Monte Troutman, DO, has a laundry list of reasons why the University of North Texas Health Science Center should not become the third U.S. university to offer both DO and MD degrees.

He said adding an MD program could undermine the main focus of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is housed at the university in Fort Worth. He said it could diminish the "whole body" osteopathic approach and potentially create more competition for residencies.

One reason, though, stands above the others.

"There's been a pretty long history of the osteopathic physician feeling sort of like the Rodney Dangerfield of medicine," said Dr. Troutman, president of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Assn. "You know, 'We don't get no respect.' So there's a bit of distrust when an MD school wants to come on campus."

Michigan State University, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are the only two schools that offer both medical degrees, according to medical educators.

In November 2008, the UNT requested a study group investigate the merits or drawbacks of adding an MD program. The group included DOs, MDs, students and hospital administrators.

The group's report to the UNT board of regents in March spelled out the pluses and minuses. Among the perceived advantages were more local residencies created, increased ability to compete for state money, and better appeal of the Fort Worth area to new physicians. Possible drawbacks included more competition for residencies if no additional teaching facilities are added and loss of funds from osteopathic organizations.

The report requested that a business plan be crafted to assess economic and academic feasibility.

If the plan moves forward, the state Legislature would have to overturn a law, adopted in 2001, that prohibits the UNT board of regents from granting an MD program to the UNTHSC.

Public discussion shows division

In late March, a public hearing drew hundreds to discuss the possible MD program. Supporters, mainly from the community and local hospitals, said adding an allopathic school would produce more doctors in north Texas and help UNT gain more research money through a higher profile.

Osteopathic physicians, however, said the MD school likely would not add that many more primary care physicians to the area.

"There has been a lot of emotion," said Melissa J. Garretson, MD, president of the Tarrant County Medical Society and a study group member.

The American Osteopathic Assn.'s board of trustees voted unanimously to oppose adding the MD degree. The organization also is withholding donations to the Osteopathic Research Center at the UNTHSC. The research center was created in 2002 and draws funds from the AOA.

"One of the biggest fears of an MD program is not the program itself, but the MD program draining resources from the DO school," said Sam Tessen, executive director of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Assn. "You'll have a state budget that won't have extra dollars laying around. So, where are the dollars going to come from for an MD program? The DO school."

At Michigan State, students in the MD-granting College of Human Medicine take some first-year year science courses with the students in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. MSUCOM spokeswoman Pat Grauer said students from both programs get along.

"Is there a friendly rivalry? Of course, but there's strong respect on both sides," said Grauer, who has worked with the osteopathic program since 1973, two years after it joined the allopathic school in East Lansing, Mich.

MSU's allopathic school started in 1966.

"When this started here, there were the same kinds of feelings you're hearing out of Texas, only the other way around," Grauer said. "But both have benefited from it and certainly the state of Michigan has benefited from having both here."

Grauer said that because students in both schools do clinical rotations in different parts of the state, they don't see much of each other after that first year. At UNT, students from both programs would likely have closer interactions.

DOs hope the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine remains in existence and the number of primary care physicians that it produces increases, regardless of what is decided.

"What are the guarantees that the osteopathic medical school would still be around in 10, 15 or 20 years?" said Dr. Troutman, a member of the study group. "We would prefer to know the details before we're going to jump on the bandwagon and collaborate."

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