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Cherokee Nation's W.W. Hastings Hospital Will House Second OSU Med School Starting in 2020

As the multimillion dollar expansion of its main hospital continues, Cherokee Nation is celebrating what officials call the capstone of their health initiatives.

OSU will open a second medical school in 2020, this one at the tribe’s W.W. Hastings Hospital campus. The OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation will take up 60,000 square feet within the 469,000 square foot facility.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said they were hoping for classes of 10 students, but each class will have 50 slots, meaning 200 doctors in training at any given time in Tahlequah once the school is fully operational.

"This is a partnership beyond all partnerships. It is going to change health care and health delivery in the Cherokee Nation for the next seven generations," Baker said.

The nation’s first tribally affiliated medical school is intended to help address rural Oklahoma’s shortage of primary care physicians. OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean Dr. Kayse Shrum said as things are now, some families must drive hours for basic health care, and the doctor shortage will only get worse if nothing is done.

"Over 57 percent of primary care physicians are over the age of 55, and almost half are 65 and over," Shrum said.

Tribal officials said younger Cherokees have the talent and smarts to be doctors, and learning close to home would encourage them to stick around. Regent Calvin Anthony said they’ve already been successful at OSU’s college of medicine in Tulsa.

"In 2018, 14 percent of our medical school graduates were Native Americans. That’s compared to 0.2 percent nationwide. That’s an extraordinary achievement," Anthony said.

The new medical school will offer the same education as OSU’s college of medicine in Tulsa. Dean Bill Petit said they will start hiring faculty early next year, and they anticipate research opportunities specific to Native American health.

Donations from Cherokee Nation Businesses and the Chickasaw Nation have already helped establish a $350,000 scholarship fund for Native American students at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.