New report notes successes, challenges for Medical College of Wisconsin

Fifty years after Milwaukee leaders laid out a vision for the future of the Medical College of Wisconsin, a new report says core goals have been achieved but new challenges lie ahead.

In 1967, the Greater Milwaukee Committee formed the Heil Commission after Marquette University split from the medical school. The commission determined three key areas of importance for the college: increasing the supply of physicians for southeast Wisconsin and the state; providing complex medical care for the region while conducting critical medical research.

According to MCW, the ratio of physicians in Wisconsin was 119 per 100,000 residents at the time. That’s risen to 521 per 100,000 residents. And 50 percent of practicing doctors in the state were educated at MCW.

The college is now one of the nation’s 10 largest by enrollment, providing highly rated care for people with complex health issues.

And MCW spends more than $200 million annually on research, accounting for 68 percent of all research investment by universities in the region. The college also recently announced a $43 million expansion of a research facility on its campus in Wauwatosa.

But report authors note federal funding for research has gone down slightly since 2012, and says the college must find additional ways to pay for research and related infrastructure. In a release, MCW says an inability to sustain current levels of research would lower health care quality in the region and make it harder to attract talent.

They say MCW has two related pipeline issues: increasing diversity within the college’s student body, and addressing a shortage of urban primary care physicians in Milwaukee.

Report authors also point to a need to build support for education and research activities into its professional fees.

They say this threatens its competitiveness in the healthcare market for that part of the state, as affiliated teaching hospitals compete for participation in insurance company networks.

“This is particularly the case as health system consolidation throughout the region is making other entities even more competitive,” they wrote. “If a byproduct of these issues is less revenue flowing to MCW, then the institution’s research capabilities could be affected.”

The report shows the college attracts over $140 million in external support every year for its research, mostly from competitive federal grants.

Another factor influencing competitiveness is the college’s structure — a private, freestanding medical school supported by affiliated but independently owned hospitals. Since it’s private, MCW doesn’t ge the same support for covering tuition as publicly owned medical schools.

Also, lacking ownership of the teaching hospitals “precludes both MCW and the hospitals from economies of scale and shared rate negotiations,” increasing financial pressure to bring additional revenue through higher professional fees.

See the full report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum here:

–By Alex Moe