BILLINGS — One year from now, Billings will welcome its inaugural class of medical students to Rocky Vista University’s Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine, as the school cleared its final accreditation hurdle Tuesday, giving it permission to recruit and accept students.
“We are thrilled to receive the recent approval by the COCA to move forward with recruiting, interviewing, and matriculating students at Rocky Vista University’s Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine,” said Dr. David Park, founding dean of the Montana College. “The process of accreditation is rigorous and requires an entire team’s knowledge, experience and expertise.
“It’s amazing that we continue to be on track.”
Few people have set foot on the 12.8-acre campus and even fewer have been inside the new 135,000-square-foot building that is slated to be done in December 2022. Staff will start moving in January, with the first students arriving six months later .
“We will start our interview process in a month, and with our rolling acceptance period, we will have our first class of 80 students starting in July 2023, with up to 160 expected by our 2025 class,” Park said.
“Montana needs more physicians,” said Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development. “We need more in primary care. We need to be able to refer more doctors to rural, underserved parts of our state, so everybody got the need.”
Arveschoug was a leading advocate to bring Rocky Vista to Billings. MCOM’s anticipated direct and indirect economic impact through 2023 is expected to total approximately $78.6 million, provide 350 jobs, and add more than $1.2 million in taxes to communities in the region. Upon full operation, MCOM is expected to support directly and indirectly 304 jobs in the region, generate $67 million in annual total economic impact and add $3.3 million in tax revenue to the state and local government.
But Arveschoug also sees it as a key addition to an already strong medical hub.
“Having a medical school is really a value add to the work that’s already been done,” he said. “Both of our hospitals have done significant work. RiverStone Health, significant work.”
Questions still surround partnerships between Rocky Vista and Billings’ established medical centers. Billings Clinic ended talks with Medforth Global Healthcare Education, the private equity firm that owns Rocky Vista, in March 2021 after highlighting ethnically insensitive and sexist comments made by representatives of the school.
A Tuesday statement seemed to imply no final decisions had been made yet though.
“We have longstanding relationships in place that will continue to receive our focus, but we will also continue to welcome students from new programs that meet our requirements and as we have capacity,” said Zach Benoit, Billings Clinic’s community relations coordinator.
St. Vincent Healthcare expressed concern at the comments in March 2021, but expressed support for Rocky Vista throughout the process, including in a new statement Tuesday.
“St. Vincent Healthcare believes that a medical school in Billings will greatly benefit our community and Montana in the short and long-term,” said members of the St. Vincent leadership team. “We look forward to partnering with Rocky Vista to ultimately enhance medical care throughout Montana and beyond.”
Now, the focus shifts to filling out the Montana College’s first class, and making Billings a sought-after destination.
“It’s important that people are excited to move and live here,” Park said. “Both students and employees – we’re looking to have wonderful people in this community.”
“We have a subcommittee that we’re working on right now – it’s called Student Welcome Strategy Committee,” Arveschoug said.
Arveschoug knows first impressions can go a long way.
“My son, having gone through medical school in North Dakota, is about ready to finish his 5-year residency,” he said. “And I asked him, ‘Where do you want to practice?’ He said, ‘Dad, I think I want to go back to North Dakota.’
“He had a quality experience with a group of physicians that were willing to participate in his training, and that stayed with him.”
Quality people on both sides – it’s something everyone can seem to get behind.