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State Rep. Joseph M. McNamara has been out front supporting a virtually unheard of idea in America: a for-profit medical school.
McNamara, a Warwick Democrat who chairs the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee, is pushing a bill that would place a "Rhode Island School of Osteopathic Medicine" on the same local stage now dominated by Brown University’s nonprofit Warren Alpert Medical School.
In advocating for the school, McNamara took to the House floor recently.
Responding to insinuations from a Brown dean that for-profit schools produced less competent doctors, McNamara told fellow legislators "in the state of Rhode Island 25 percent of our current physicians are graduates of for-profit medical schools." And, McNamara said, no one’s suggesting they’re any less qualified than doctors from nonprofit schools.
We’re aware of the growing number of for-profit colleges and universities around the country, particularly on the web. But for-profit medical schools are much rarer. We wondered whether so many of Rhode Island’s doctors could be graduates of such schools.
So we called McNamara and asked where he got his 25 percent figure. McNamara said it was cited in a letter he received from Steven C. Rodger, the principal proponent of the for-profit medical school.
Rodger is president and CEO of R3 Education, a Massachusetts-based holding company that runs three for-profit medical schools in the Caribbean offering MD degrees. Rodger had earlier told McNamara’s committee that the new Rhode Island school would help ease the state’s shortage of primary care physicians, create up to 300 new jobs and generate more tax revenue, while charging significantly lower tuition than other medical schools.
When McNamara faxed us Rodger’s letter, we immediately saw a couple of problems with his statement. The most obvious: the letter doesn’t say what McNamara said on the House floor, that 25 percent of Rhode Island’s doctors graduated from for-profit schools.
Instead, it says Rhode Island has "over 25 percent of its active physicians workforce comprised of IMG’s," an acronym for international medical graduates. In other words: more than a quarter of Rhode Island’s doctors, according to the letter, graduated from international medical schools. That doesn’t mean they are all for-profit schools.
We called Rodger to find out where his figure came from. He pointed us to the 2011 State Physician Workforce Data Book, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.
That report includes a table (actually prepared by the American Medical Association) showing that 908 of Rhode Island’s 3,513 active physicians in 2010 graduated from international medical schools, or 25.8 percent.
That places Rhode Island 11th in the country in terms of the percentage of doctors who graduated from international medical schools.
But again that doesn’t get to McNamara’s statement that a quarter of the state’s doctors graduated from for-profit medical schools.
The United States has only one for-profit medical school, according to several sources:Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Parker, Colo., which opened in 2008.
There are more than 2,246 medical schools around the world (including 137 accredited U.S. schools), according to the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research. That’s a nonprofit group associated with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, a private Philadelphia organization that certifies the readiness of international medical students into U.S. graduate programs.
Rodger said he believes that most international medical schools, such as the three his company runs, are for-profit ventures, but he didn’t have any hard facts. His letter to McNamara made the same general statement without any attribution.
PolitiFact Rhode Island tried to verify if that was true by checking with the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and finally the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
None could say how many international medical schools were for-profit.
McNamara concedes he misspoke on the House floor. He said "25 percent of our current physicians are graduates of for-profit medical schools." He meant to say that a quarter of Rhode Island’s doctors graduated from international medical schools.
McNamara says he was relying on information Rodger presented: "We [legislators] assume that people give us information that is accurate." But Rodger did provide accurate information -- as far as it went -- McNamara just cited it inaccurately.
We rule his statement False.
(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)
Association of American Medical Colleges, "2011 State Physician Workforce Databook" , Table 6, November 2011, accessed May 24, 2012
Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research, "Mapping the World’s Medical Schools," accessed May 24, 2012
Interview, R.I. Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, May 23-24, 2012
Interview, Steven C. Rodger, president and CEO of R3 Education, May 23, 2012
Interview, Steven DeToy, spokesman, Rhode Island Medical Society, May 23, 2012
Interview, Stephanie Schmitt, spokeswoman, Association of American Medical Colleges, May 23-24, 2012
Interview, Elizabeth M. Ingraham, spokeswoman, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, May 24, 2012
Interview, Wendy Fernando, spokeswoman, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, May 24, 2012
Interview, Holly E. Kaspar, spokeswoman, Rocky Vista University, College of Osteopathic Medicine, May 24, 2012
Interview, Shannon O’Brien, spokeswoman, American Medical Association, May 23, 2012
The Providence Journal, "Questions on medical school plan," April 21, 2012
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