By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
Ken Schmanke was all set to go to the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Kansas City. The Topeka native, who earned his undergraduate degree at Washburn University, was looking forward to living in a bigger city with lots to do and still being close to his hometown. He’d even been apartment hunting.
But then he got to wondering if he should at least check out KUSM-Wichita.
When he did, he was impressed with what he calls “the great environment” he found. Faculty and students were welcoming and seemed more energetic than at the other medical schools he visited, he said, plus he was impressed with the medical community in Wichita, where health care is the second largest industry.
The city and its amenities held promise, too.
“This city is a beautiful place to live. It’s a big city with a small-town feel,” said the 25-year-old who’s entering his third year of medical school. “If you want to see the youthfulness here, just look at how many breweries there are – my gosh. And the NCAA tournament was here.” He likes to go to festivals and local events, play in league sports and bike Wichita’s trails.
Most importantly, Schmanke said, he thinks he’s getting a better medical education. With smaller class sizes and so many health care providers in Wichita, students and residents often get more hands-on opportunities – ranging from helping deliver babies to suturing during a surgical procedure – compared to his counterparts in Kansas City, Schmanke’s discovered.
Caring for the state
KUSM-Wichita began accepting students in 1973, and for nearly 40 years operated as a clinical campus, educating students in their third and fourth years after they’d completed their first two years of med school in Kansas City.
It became a full four-year med school in 2011, when it enrolled its first class of first-year students, said Dr. Scott Moser, associate dean of curriculum. The expansion was part of the KU Med School’s plan to address physician shortages in Kansas as older doctors retire.
Now the school is a blend of students who will complete a full four years in Wichita and the 50 students who continue to be transferred from KUSM-Kansas City, explained Moser. First- and second-year classes are limited to 28 students each, since the school doesn’t have enough classroom and clinical space to accommodate more.
Students can choose to come to the KUSM-Wichita, or they are selected by lottery. Schmanke noted that all 28 students in his class were here by choice, likely because of the school’s reputation.
KUSM-Wichita charts some important stats: The school is No. 1 in the nation in the percentage of graduates who go on to serve in rural areas – many in Kansas – and it’s sixth in the nation in producing primary care physicians.
According to KUSM-Wichita’s “We Doctor Kansas” awareness campaign, over the past five decades more than 2,100 students have earned their medical degrees in Wichita.
After residency, as many as eight KUSM-Wichita graduates will become pediatric physicians, noted Dr. Brian Pate, the chair of pediatrics and a former KUSM-Wichita student.
“That’s an important pipeline for children’s health,” he said.
A healthy impact
More than half the practicing doctors in Sedgwick County are graduates of KUSM-Wichita or its residency programs, according to school officials.
But KUSM-Wichita doesn’t only educate doctors; it impacts the community in other ways, too, with its medical professionals and partnerships with other universities.
The impact can even be seen on local sports fields, when occasional emergency medical attention is needed and a team of KUSM-Wichita students happens to be playing.
“They know we’re medical students so they come to us and ask us to put their dislocated joints back in place,” said Schmanke, who’s on the school’s recreation softball and football teams.
But on the more serious side: “There’s good evidence that when there’s a medical school in a community, there’s better medical care overall in the community,” said Moser.
Faculty members see patients at the school’s 14 clinics and bring some of the latest knowledge. This summer, for example, an adolescent medical specialist will join the faculty in Wichita, offering a new specialty service in Wichita, said Pate.
Students and residents who round with doctors serve as a second pair of eyes and can provide input on a patient’s care.
In partnership with the safety-net Guadalupe Clinic, the student-run JayDoc Community Clinic sees about 500 underinsured and uninsured patients annually. Schmanke will become the junior executive director of the clinic’s board this year and the board’s executive director next year.
When the JayDoc Community Clinic needed Spanish interpreters, it partnered with Wichita State’s languages department to find student volunteers. Students from Newman University’s nursing program and from WSU’s physician assistant program work together with the KUSM-Wichita medical and pharmacy students at the school’s medical simulation center, getting practice at being part of a health care team. The center has high-fidelity mannequins that can simulate situations from an office exam room to a surgical suite. Students from health programs at other universities also get diagnostic and other medical experience in the school’s standardized patient program, where community members get paid to role-play medical patients.
With a mission of teaching and research, the school also provides several opportunities for patients to be part of clinical trials.
As school officials like to say, “A healthy Kansas starts here.”