Find out the plans for Montgomery County’s newest medical school

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With 80 percent of Texas counties designated as medically underserved, Sam Houston State University hopes to meet the needs of the East Texas region by opening a College of Osteopathic Medicine in Conroe by 2020.

The new college has been in the works since 2015 with plans to open in Conroe’s newly opened Grand Central Park for the 2020 fall semester. The doctorate program will be a four-year professional program with intensive classroom training during the first two years and student rotations through selectives in surgery, medicine and electives in women’s health in various hospitals and other health facilities.

“The location provides optimum access to the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s East Texas service region, which is comprised of hospitals and medical facilities in both rural and urban areas,” said Dr. Charles Henley, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “The SHSU-COM will establish partnerships with teaching hospitals and other facilities in both urban and rural areas within the East Texas region.”

Founded in the late 1800s, osteopathic medicine uses modern medicine, such as prescription drugs, surgery and technology, while also incorporating hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system known as osteopathic manipulative medicine, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

Sixty percent of physicians who practice osteopathic medicine, known as DOs, specialize in primary health care, according to the AACOM. These physicians place emphasis on the body’s innate ability to heal itself, while considering the patient’s lifestyle and environment in making medical decisions.

“Texas faces a significant shortage of physicians practicing in primary care,” Henley said. “Since osteopathic physicians are more likely to practice in primary care specialties and [work]with underserved populations, increasing the pipeline of primary care physicians through the expansion of osteopathic schools is a sound solution to a growing health care problem.”

SHSU officials said Texas ranks 32nd in total medical student enrollment per 100,000 residents, yet it is second in population growth nationwide. In addition, Texas ranks low in physicians and critical specialties placing 41st for active physicians, 47th for primary care physicians and 48th for general surgeons.

The state also ranks 26th out of the 27 states with colleges of osteopathic medicine with regard to the number of enrollees per 100,000 residents. With the addition of SHSU’s program and another through the University of the Incarnate Word, Texas will move up to rank 18th out of 27.

“Health care ranks in the top five consumer spending categories in Montgomery County,” Henley said. “It is estimated that by 2025, North Harris and Montgomery counties will need 15,295 nurses and 5,670 primary care physicians. Upholding a mission of primary care, the SHSU-COM will collaborate with hospitals and medical facilities in those areas of greatest need.”

Each class will have 150 students and full enrollment in the program will reach capacity at 600 students.

“The College of Osteopathic Medicine’s commitment to a holistic approach for clinical care, its emphasis on primary care and care for the underserved align with the values we hold dear at SHSU,” Henley said. “We chose osteopathic medicine as our standard for medical education because it is the optimum solution to helping close a very real health care gap in Texas and improving the quality of life in underserved areas.”

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Hannah Zedaker

Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a full-time reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. She covers business, transportation, health care and other local news, specializing in Shenandoah City Council and Montgomery County nonprofit organizations.

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