Burrell Medical College Unfazed by Manipal Withdrawal

The Burrell Group of New Mexico is pushing ahead with its plan to create a 600-student medical college in Bozeman, despite a competing India-based company’s decision that Montana doesn’t have enough patients and teaching doctors to support a quality school.

“We’re moving forward with our proposed medical school,” Dr. Robert Hasty said in an interview Friday. Hasty, 42, has been hired as founding dean in charge of planning Burrell’s Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“We’re excited,” Hasty said. “We’re going to make a huge difference for Montana and the surrounding areas. It’s going to be a game-changer.”

Manipal Education America announced this week in Missoula that it would end its year-long exploration of starting a private, for-profit osteopathic college in Montana.

The Missoulian reported that Neal Simon, Manipal Education America president, issued a statement saying the firm agreed with Missoula’s physician community “that the clinical education infrastructure will not support a high-quality medical school in the state.”

Hasty said Manipal “made the right decision for them” but that has no bearing on the Burrell college, currently completing a feasibility study.

Montana wouldn’t have had the capacity to support two medical schools, Hasty said. But Montana, together with Idaho and Wyoming, does have the capacity to train doctors in a regional medical school, he said.

Many Bozeman doctors remain skeptical of or upset by Burrell’s plan to build a private, for-profit school, possibly in a partnership with Montana State University.

Eleven physicians met with MSU President Waded Cruzado on Friday for 90 minutes to voice their concerns.

Cruzado wrote a public letter this week saying the Burrell college could potentially benefit Montana’s economy with millions of dollars in investment, hundreds of jobs, and new opportunities for students who can’t get into medical school.

She wrote that she has sought from the beginning to ensure it wouldn’t hurt the 43-year-old WWAMI program. That program trains students from states without medical schools — Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – in cooperation with the University of Washington. Montana pays to train 30 students a year, who spend their first two years at MSU.

Despite Cruzado’s reassurances, some physicians fear the new school threatens WWAMI because its students would compete for a limited number of residency spots and some legislators may see a chance to save tax money by killing WWAMI.

Dr. Colette Kirchhoff said the doctors “tried to inform” Cruzado that “overwhelmingly, physicians across the state are not in favor of the for-profit model, which is about making money for investors, not providing high-quality medical education.”

Dr. Aaron Bruce, an osteopathic doctor, said Montana’s medical community, and now Manipal, “have come to realize there aren’t enough clerkships and graduate medical training opportunities for a school such as this to be viable.”

Hasty didn’t attend the MSU meeting, but responded to doctors’ concerns.

The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University, which will open next fall with its first 150 students, has already created 108 new accredited residency positions in the New Mexico area, he said.

After students graduate from four-year medical schools, they must undergo years of training in residencies before they can practice. Montana today has only about 30 residencies, and critics say that’s not enough to support WWAMI plus Burrell’s proposed 150 students a year.

Hasty himself has experience with a startup medical school in North Carolina at Campbell University, a 128-year-old Christian school that started its osteopathic college in 2013. It has created 383 new residencies, he said.

In a state that already has established medical schools at Duke and the University of North Carolina, Hasty said, “The big guys said we couldn’t do this and we proved them wrong.”

“It’s incredibly hard work,” Hasty said. “It’s important work. I’m a faith-based guy. I live my life with a purpose.”

Starting a new medical college is daunting work and causes many sleepless nights, Hasty said. But he is so positive about the Burrell college, he is buying a house in Bozeman, set to close next month, and plans to move here with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

“This is going to be the highest quality medical school,” he said. “We are going to train quality and caring physicians for the future.”

Resistance and negativity are normal and healthy and don’t worry him, Hasty said.

“Folks will fall in love with our medical school,” he said. “I’m super optimistic.”