Kentucky House passes bills allowing new academic roles for Murray State and Eastern Kentucky

Two universities wanting to carve out ambitious new roles to help overcome shortages of doctors and veterinarians won overwhelming support from the Kentucky House on Thursday.

The House passed separate bills that would allow Murray State University to create a school of veterinary medicine and Eastern Kentucky University to offer medical degrees in osteopathic medicine.

The authorization bills now head to the Senate. Another key issue to be resolved is whether the proposed academic programs will receive the state funding needed to get established. That could be decided next month when lawmakers hash out the final details of the state’s next two-year budget. The new programs also would have to gain approval from the state Council on Postsecondary Education.

The House action moved Murray State closer toward achieve its longstanding ambition of becoming the first Kentucky school to offer doctorate-level veterinarian degrees. An in-state school would be crucial in fixing a broad shortage of veterinarians, especially in treating large animals, supporters said.

Kentucky has a large and diversified farm economy, but it lacks a “crucial component in our agriculture infrastructure — a veterinary school,” said Republican Rep. Richard Heath, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The Bluegrass State has a long-running partnership with Auburn University in Alabama that allows students from Kentucky to be classified as in-state residents in Auburn’s veterinary program.

A veterinary medicine school at Murray State could work in combination with the existing out-of-state partnership to supply the veterinarians needed to meet demand across Kentucky, supporters said.

Democratic Rep. Chad Aull said the issue isn’t where to establish an in-state veterinary school but whether such a school should be developed at all. It could someday be viewed as a financial hardship in lean fiscal times to have both an in-state school and an out-of-state agreement, he said.

“I really hope that when we get into an economic downturn in eight or 10 years, and we go into a recession and we are faced with a challenging budget, that we do not cut those slots at Auburn because they are critical and vital for the health of our veterinarian community,” he said.

Murray State officials say reliance on out-of-state programs alone won’t solve the veterinary shortage.

“It’s a basic math problem,” Murray State President Bob Jackson said at a recent committee hearing. “There’s not enough slots or seats in the vet schools that exist today to meet the growing demand of veterinarians in this country and in this state. Yes, we can buy more slots. But it’s not going to fix the shortage issue that we’re dealing with today.”

Meanwhile, the bill that would allow Eastern Kentucky to offer medical degrees for practice in osteopathic medicine sailed through the House without any resistance.

Supporters pointed to a shortage of primary care physicians in Kentucky. The state’s three existing medical schools enrolled a combined 510 students last year out of more than 13,000 applicants, said House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, the bill’s lead sponsor. The proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine at Eastern Kentucky University would increase the pipeline of physicians practicing in the state, supporters said.

“We all know that rural Kentucky is struggling with access to health care, and we’ve challenged our universities to come with solutions,” Meade said. “And that’s what EKU is trying to do right here is meet that challenge.”

Republican Rep. Deanna Frazier Gordon, another primary bill sponsor, said Eastern Kentucky’s program would help contribute to the health of Kentuckians, especially in areas lacking enough health care providers.

The university wants to play a role in overcoming the shortage of primary care physicians, especially in rural Kentucky, school President David McFaddin told a recent legislative committee hearing.

“We are proud of this proposal,” he said. “We are trying to address Kentucky’s needs. We are leaning into our strengths, and we are trying to differentiate as an institution.”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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