Kaiser Permanente Med School on Target for July Opening .

Boston Children's Hospital



Dr. Mark A. Schuster was reluctant to talk specific numbers, but he did say last week that the soon-to-open Pasadena based Kaiser Permanente Medical School in Pasadena has been “flooded” with “thousands” of applicants from all 50 states.

What’s more, Schuster and several other school officials said, Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine is on target for a July 26 “white coat ceremony” – welcoming the school’s initial 48 students to the first day of their med-school careers.

That’s right, 48 students will be accepted from among those thousands of applicants. That’s a lot of winnowing. But when the process is complete, it will officially kick off what Schuster, the school’s founding dean and chief executive officer, hopes is a new day in medical education — one focusing on a new-age “integrated care model” that embraces aspects outside the usual realm of doctor-patient relationships, such as economic and environmental elements of a patient’s situation, plus “service learning” and “community engagement.”

Dr. Mark Schuster, founding dean and chief executive officer, Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine.

School officials describe the curriculum as one that aims “to prepare future physicians to become collaborative, transformative leaders committed to prevention, fluent in data-driven care, and adept at addressing the needs of underserved patients and communities.’’

Staff members at the school are now engaged in the lengthy process of interviewing applicants, bringing in about 48 a week.

“There’s a lot of concern right now in the country that medical education needs to be fixed, that it’s out of date,’’ Schuster told the Pasadena Rotary Club on Wednesday, regarding the school’s approach. “Kaiser Permanente really felt that it really had something to offer in the way it organizes care and the way it approaches patients, and they wanted to jump into this effort to make thing better.’’

Schuster – recruited from Harvard Medical School, where he was a professor of pediatrics, as well as the chief of general pediatrics and vice chair for health policy at Boston Children’s Hospital – detailed progress at the school, and what its opening will mean for both the city and the state.

He said there are 45 states in the U.S. with medical schools. California ranks 43rd in the number of medical-school spots per capita.

“We are known as a net exporter of students,” he said. Schuster also said the admissions process will consider not just the usual academic metrics that medical schools employ, but also personal attributes and life experiences, ensuring opportunities to a more diverse student body.

What’s more, the first five classes will be tuition-free — freeing students from as much as $200,000 to $400,000 in typical med-school debt, in addition to the undergraduate debt they’ve already accumulated before setting foot in med school.

“That’s based on the generosity of Kaiser Permanente,” said Schuster.

The school will also include clinical education at KP hospitals and clinics all around the Los Angeles area.

Schuster took those gathered at the weekly Rotary meeting on a virtual tour of the state-of-the-art facility, a four-story building at 98 South Robles Ave.

Among the highlights: a two-story open-space lobby, 10 simulation rooms (simulating an operating room, for example), an auditorium, numerous conference rooms (“because students learn in small groups”), and a library (although, he said, “we’re not sure we’re actually going to have books” in today’s online and e-book world).

To relieve the high stress of a medical student’s life, there’s also a yoga garden, an indoor-outdoor gym and a student lounge. One item the school will not have is cadavers. Schuster said that, in the new med school’s state-of-the-art labs, anatomy will be taught with simulated subjects and augmented by high-tech virtual reality.

Heidi Kato, the school’s chief of staff, said the school has already received preliminary accreditation, the first of three steps toward full accreditation by the national Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

The next steps would be “provisional,” accreditation, which a school receives when its first class completes two years of study; and then “full” accreditation, which will occur when the school’s first class graduates.

Kato said some 250 faculty are already in place, ahead of the summer opening.

Rotarian Phil Hawkey described the upcoming medical-school opening as “momentous for Pasadena, a driver of the economy and a driver in transforming the future of health care.’’