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Governor Polis signing Senate Bill 56

UNC Gets Green Light From State to Offer Degree Programs in Osteopathic Medicine, Finalists for Founding Dean Identified

The University of Northern Colorado made key progress in its ongoing exploration of creating a not-for-profit college of osteopathic medicine within the university when Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 56 on Thursday, March 17.

The University of Northern Colorado made key progress in its ongoing exploration of creating a not-for-profit college of osteopathic medicine within the university when Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 56 on Thursday, March 17. The legislation, introduced to the Senate on Jan. 18, allows the university to offer specialized degree programs in osteopathic medicine. The bill was passed unanimously through the House and Senate, receiving bipartisan support.  

“This is a very exciting day for UNC and is a critical step in our pursuit of creating a college of osteopathic medicine,” said Andy Feinstein, UNC president. “I am grateful that our community, state legislators and Governor Polis share in our belief that more healthcare professionals in Colorado are needed and that a new medical college at UNC would go a long way in addressing the physician shortage that exists. I want to thank Senators Sonnenberg, Garcia and Cooke for their sponsorship of the bill, in addition to Reps. Mary Young and Perry Will. There is still a great deal of work ahead, but the passage of Senate Bill 56 is an important hurdle that needed to be cleared in order for us to create a new medical college.” 

Parallel to the legislative process, the university proceeded with another key step in January, launching a national search for a founding dean of the college with the goal of having someone hired in the spring. Four finalists have been identified through that search and UNC is hosting open forums for the candidates on campus next week. The forums are open to students, faculty, staff and the community. 

Filling the role of the founding dean is a crucial step as they will provide key leadership in creating the business plan for the college, developing program curriculum, supporting work to secure start-up funds and collaborating with partners to secure additional commitments for clinical placements and residencies. The founding dean will also lead the university through and manage the accreditation process with the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). UNC filed for applicant status with COCA in January.  

The university’s decision to pursue a College of Osteopathic Medicine came after months of research and conversations with key stakeholders and based on the findings and recommendations from a donor-funded feasibility study launched last July by the consulting firm Tripp Umbach, a leader in medical education consulting. The decision also stems from UNC’s desire and unique ability to meet the critical and growing demand for doctors across the state and region, particularly in rural and underserved areas. 

Colorado grew at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the nation from 2010 to 2020, making it among the fastest-growing states. The booming population, coupled with the state’s high percentage of active physicians aged 60 or older who are expected to exit the workforce in the next few years, are two factors creating a shortage of physicians. Additionally, Colorado’s two other existing medical education programs don’t produce enough physicians to address that shortage, nor do they meet the demand for students who want to pursue medical education. UNC’s ability to leverage its existing strong programs in the sciences and health sciences position the university to not only enhance the osteopathic medicine curriculum but also enhance students’ academic experience in these other fields – factors that will amplify positive outcomes for healthcare access and quality across the state.  

While UNC continues to make considerable progress, including in the important work of securing clinical rotation sites required for third- and fourth-year students, there are still significant issues to address, including raising the funding necessary to open the college. The university must raise approximately $150 million through philanthropy, state support, partnerships and other sources. Once fully operational, the college is planned to be completely self-sustaining.

As the founding dean begins work this summer, the university anticipates receiving candidate status through COCA by summer 2023 and pre-accreditation status by spring 2024. It is estimated that if planning continues to proceed at the current pace, UNC could see its first class of medical students in the fall of 2025.  

Follow the university’s continued efforts on UNC's Osteopathic Medical College Exploration webpage.

— written by Deanna Herbert

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