Medical Center, College of Medicine advancing despite tough economy

Hershey, Pa – Penn State College of Medicine remains a medical school of choice for future physicians and the University's teaching hospital, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, is meeting its budget through the first eight months of the current fiscal year despite a tumultuous economic climate. The news highlighted a presentation to University Trustees today (March 20) by Dr. Harold L. Paz, chief executive officer of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Penn State's senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the College of Medicine.
    
Dr. Paz, who next month marks his third anniversary as leader of Penn State's medical school, university hospital and health system, touted a record number of medical school applicants, increased collaboration with other Pennsylvania health care providers and steady progress toward established strategic priorities in his presentation to the Board of Trustees on Friday.
    
"College of Medicine applications continue to increase, the quality of our applicants is strong, and our students continue to out-perform national benchmarks," said Paz.

Medical school applications, which exceed 7,000 applicants for just 145 available slots, are up another 2.25 percent this year. More significant is the increased College of Medicine "yield rate"— the percent of students who choose to accept a medical school's offer of admission — which has increased from 30 percent to 35 percent this year.

"We are competing with more than 100 medical schools nationwide, as well as many international schools of medicine, for the best and brightest students. Many of these students receive multiple offers of acceptance to medical schools," Paz explained. "To have more than one-third of these students choose Penn State over other medical schools speaks volumes about the quality of our faculty and our educational programs."

Paz also noted that for the second year in a row, Penn State medical students averaged a score of 98 percent on Step One of their United States Medical Licensure Exams (USMLE), well above the national average of 93 percent.

On Thursday, the medical center learned that 100 percent of its first-year categorical resident positions had been filled through the National Residency Match Program (NRMP). The NRMP is the 57-year-old program that matches approximately 16,000 U.S. medical students with accredited residency programs across the United States. It marks the first time in more than two decades that the medical center enjoyed a 100 percent fill rate of its residency programs during match week, when the initial NRMP results are released.

Paz also acknowledged the community service commitment of College of Medicine students both at home and abroad. He highlighted student participation in global medical missions to medically underserved locations such as Honduras and Ecuador, as well as the local student-run Lion Care clinic, which provides free care to the homeless at the Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg.

Paz stressed that developing community partnerships is also a priority for the medical center. He revealed that groundbreaking for the new Penn State Hershey Rehabilitation Hospital will occur next month. The 54-bed acute rehabilitation facility, being developed in collaboration with Select Medical Corporation, will be located one mile from the medical center campus in Hershey.

Another health care collaboration, the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, marks its one-year anniversary in less than two weeks. The 74-bed institute, located in Harrisburg, brings together the behavioral health services, training and research of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Harrisburg-based PinnacleHealth.

In addition, Paz shared with Trustees that the new Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute is on track to apply for National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation in 2010 and is slated to move into its new state-of-the-art facility on the Hershey campus early this summer. Securing NCI-designation would increase Penn State's ability to recruit and retain outstanding cancer researchers and care providers and enhance access to research funding and leading-edge clinical trials.

Paz cited several noteworthy honors bestowed upon the medical center over the past year. Last April, Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital was named to U.S. News and World Report's list of Best Children's Hospitals, ranked for care of respiratory disorders. Meanwhile, approximately one-quarter of the medical center's physicians — 140 doctors in all — were included in the Best Doctors® in America 2007-2008 database.

Paz cautioned that the accomplishments of faculty, students and staff at the medical center and college have come despite significant economic challenges, which have lead the organization to implement a series of proactive financial actions, including implementation of a selective hiring freeze, a review of more than $30 million in planned capital expenses, and a planned budget reduction for the College of Medicine.

Through the first eight months of the fiscal year, Penn State Hershey Medical Center has experienced a modest decline in hospital admissions over the previous fiscal year, while charity care costs are up more than $2 million over the previous year. Despite these challenges, Paz reported that the medical center is posting a positive operating margin through the first eight months of the fiscal year thanks in large part to strong surgical volumes (8 percent higher than last year) and expense management (1.5 percent better than budget year-to-date).

"While we remain optimistic, the challenges presented by the economic climate and the current national healthcare environment are far from over," Paz said. "We are taking thoughtful steps now in an effort to weather the current economic storm, so we can continue meet the growing needs of our patients, students and community."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010