The University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita celebrates 50 years in the community this year, a proud milestone for a campus that began its tenure as a two-year clinically based, community-focused program of its parent school in Kansas City.
Since its founding on Sept. 17, 1971, KUSM-Wichita has graduated nearly 2,400 students, and, since 1988, has graduated 2,269 residents from its residency programs.
“KUSM-Wichita is exceptional because it provides excellent medical education in a community setting with strong support by the city’s phyasicians and hospitals,” said Garold Minns, MD, dean of the Wichita campus and who is a 1976 graduate of KUSM-Wichita. He also completed his residency training there. “It has played a big part in Wichita becoming a large medical referral center for specialty care.”
There’s no question KUSM-Wichita has grown into a nationally recognized leader in health education and biomedical research. Today, the medical school is renowned for its primary care medicine program, emphasis on training rural doctors – 85% of Kansas Bridging Plan participants continue to practice in the state – and cutting-edge research and clinical trials.
This rich history has attracted scores of talented physicians, including Tiffany Schwasinger-Schmidt, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the Center for Clinical Research. She oversaw Wichita’s participation last August in a nationwide clinical trial to test the COVID-19 vaccine AZD1222, developed by Oxford University and purchased by AstraZeneca.
Donna Sweet, MD, joined the faculty in 1982 and is widely known for her tireless research and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Kansas. Sweet was involved in testing the first HIV drug, AZT, and is currently participating in a study of slow-release medication that could significantly change HIV/AIDS protocols, she said.
“We’re already seeing substantial growth for the Center for Clinical Research and clinical trials,” said Schwasinger-Schmidt, who graduated from KUSM-Wichita in 2014, a year before the school expanded into a four-year program. “Our goal is that everyone in Kansas has access to care, so we continue doing rural outreach and making sure we’re engaging with the community and really just being pioneers.”
In the past two years, more than 300 patients have participated in trials at KUSM-Wichita. Recent trials include a meningitis vaccine for babies, an antidepressant treatment for youth, and a potential treatment for people with early Alzheimer’s disease, officials said.
Over the past five decades, KUSM-Wichita has moved to the forefront of primary care medical education. In fact, the University of Kansas School of Medicine now ranks in the Top 10 medical schools in the country for primary care, according to U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of medical schools in the United States for 2022. KUSM also ranked 19th in the nation for its family medicine program.
Rick Kellerman, MD, chairman of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at KUSM-Wichita, cited a “one-of-a-kind” study published in Academic Medicine in 2013 that ranked KUSM-Wichita No. 6 nationally in primary care, No. 1 in the production of rural primary care physicians, and No. 2 in providing care of the underserved rural and urban populations.
It is a legacy to be proud of, Kellerman said.
“KUSM-Wichita is the ‘Harvard’ of community-based medical schools,” said Kellerman, who oversees family medicine education for medical students as well as the three KUSM-Wichita sponsored family medicine residency programs in Salina, at Ascension Via Christi and at Wesley Medical Center.
“Community-based means we are non-traditional and innovative in our approach to medical education,” he said. “KUSM-Wichita has been a powerful disruptive innovator in medical education and that has been to the benefit of Kansas and Kansans and, indeed, beyond.”
Most KUSM-Wichita faculty are proud of the school’s impact on growing physicians in Kansas, particularly in rural areas, where June stats show the school has at least one KUSM-Wichita family medicine graduate in nearly every county in Kansas.
It’s the tradition of cultivating a robust community-based training program that partners practicing physicians with medical students as well as hospital-based care and hands-on clinical experiences (KUSM-Wichita residents deliver dozens of babies during their rotations) that raises the bar for well-rounded physicians in Kansas.
“KUSM-Wichita has had a significant impact on our community and raised the standards of medical care in the state of Kansas,” said Sam Antonios, MD, chief clinical officer for Ascension Via Christi. “Through its educational mission, KUSM-Wichita has enriched our medical community with high-quality physicians. (We) have a strong partnership with KUSM-Wichita in education, research and community outreach.”