Students who earned their doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees leap...

Students who earned their doctor of osteopathic medicine degrees leap into the air for a photo during NYIT's 54th annual commencement ceremonies, held at the Old Westbury campus on May 17, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

New York Institute of Technology will open an osteopathic medical school in Arkansas, gaining approval this week to expand the program offered on the Old Westbury campus to students in the South.

NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University will enroll its first class of 115 students to begin studies in August 2016 on the campus in Jonesboro, a city in the northern part of the state where there is a shortage of primary care physicians.

“There’s no question now that NYIT is a major force in medical education in the United States,” NYIT President Edward Guiliano said Thursday.

The total cost of the new school is $12 million, officials said. NYIT will finance some $6 million in renovations to an existing building and buy equipment. About 80 faculty and staff are expected to be hired.

The Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation endorsed its launch over the weekend. Another osteopathic medical school in Arkansas also received approval, spokeswoman Sheridan Chaney said.

The four-year program leads to a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, or D.O.

The doctor of medicine degree, or M.D., is more popular. Physicians with a D.O. tend to go into primary care practices. About 11 percent of physicians carry the D.O. degree. Physicians with either degree receive the same license and share the same medical rights and privileges in all 50 states.

NYIT’s osteopathic medical school has been based in Old Westbury since 1977 and has a current enrollment of about 1,200. Guiliano said officials have been looking for an additional site for years. Upstate New York, southern New Jersey and the Pacific Northwest region were considered.

The Arkansas State University agreement presented the best opportunity in the form of grants and an existing infrastructure.

“There are advantages to being in a territory where you’re the only major medical program within hundreds of miles,” Guiliano said.

Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, NYIT’s vice president for health sciences and the dean of the Arkansas medical school, said applicants would come from the surrounding area as well as nationally. The application deadline is March 15, she said.

NYIT’s Old Westbury medical school admits one in 30 applicants, so there already is a pool of students. The tuition to attend both the Old Westbury and the Jonesboro medical schools would be the same — about $52,000 per year, Ross-Lee said.

Students tend to practice within 50 miles of where they train, which could provide the underserved area in proximity to the Arkansas school better access to health care, she said.

Among the concerns raised during the accrediting process was whether there would be enough residency spots for the medical school graduates to perform the required in-hospital clinical training. A group of physicians gained pre-approvals from the accreditation commission to open the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith, adding to the number of graduates who will need placements.

Ross-Lee said NYIT is working with 19 hospitals in the area, mostly community hospitals, to set up residency programs. She estimates 400 more residency spots will be created.

In the 2014-15 academic year, 100 percent of NYIT’s medical school graduates matched with residency programs.

“We have a strong history of producing primary care doctors and we can do it in a state that might benefit from it,” Ross-Lee said.

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