College of Medicine fills four classes, recruits locally

Central Michigan University's College of Medicine is young by med school standards. 

As this year's students settle in for the rigor of medical training, the college is celebrating its first year of having all four classes filled.

CMED, established in 2009, is one of several new medical schools trying to recruit new doctors in the face of a physician shortage anticipated by the Association of American Medical Colleges. CMU isn’t only trying to train more doctors, it’s trying to train doctors with a focus on helping Michigan communities.

“For us, we’re very mission focused. We try to to go through applications for students that identify with our mission,” said CMED Director of Admissions Chris Austin. “Working with underserved populations, rural populations, showing interest in family and general care medicine — that’s our mission — so we’re going to try to find students that have a history with those kind of experiences.”

Brent Oldham, of Midland, developed an interest in medicine after visiting hospitals when he was younger. 

“My brother had brain cancer when I was very young and I had a lot of relatives with health problems, it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” said the first year student.

Oldham said CMED is working to recruit students who aren't just focused on financial gain.

"I think we all have a pretty strong humanitarian side. We want to aspire to do more for people," he said. 

Dr. William Robert Fleischmann was the first faculty member hired by CMED. He said the school is looking for students with a broad range of interests. 

“It’s an amazing opportunity to start a new medical school," Fleischmann said. "(We're looking for) caring individuals that want to relieve suffering in areas where it’s most needed.”

For Stacy Goldthorpe, applying to medical school was a long, difficult process filled with standardized tests, essays and interviews. 

It was worth the effort said Goldthorpe. 

“It’s not just about the science. It’s about being there for the patient and helping them recover,” the first year student from St. Ignace said. “It’s hard to put into words, but health is such a precious thing and it can be so easily taken away.”

CMED recruits students from throughout the state, Austin said. Roughly a quarter of CMED students come from northern and central Michigan, where hiring doctors is particularly difficult. The rest are recruited from other parts of Michigan. About 20 percent of students are from out of state.

 The physician shortage is as much an issue of resource distribution as it is an actual shortage of doctors, Austin said. It’s difficult to convince graduating students, burdened with debt, to take positions in underserved communities.

“It’s a lot more attractive to go to the Metro Detroit area than it is Alpena," he said.

CMED’s first class contained 64 students, but each consecutive year has welcomed 104, the maximum number of students admitted to a class. In total, out of 376 students, 83 percent are from Michigan.

Lansing second year Brittany Fields said she always knew that she was going to be a doctor. She came to CMU because she appreciates the school’s focus on team-based learning.

“You don’t really practice health care in isolation, so it’s crucial to learn how to work with different people across all medical professions,” said Fields.

Fields didn’t want to attend a medical school that focuses on competition and class rankings. She said she wanted the collaborative environment that CMED provides. 

“It’s a really supportive atmosphere, which is critical about training medical students. I’m excited to learn in a hospital about the different aspects of medicine and the opportunities for research,” Fields said. “There’s so much out there and you think you know until you see some new procedure and everything you thought you wanted changes.”