More than 20 years after being given a mission to train health professionals, East Tennessee State University will formally be recognized as a health sciences center.
ETSU has been working with the Association of Academic Health Centers since being reorganized to fulfill a specific health mission for the Tennessee Board of Regents in 1989. At that time the school established a Division of Health Sciences that included all the health programs offered at ETSU.
The ETSU Division of Health Sciences will now be the Academic Health Sciences Center at ETSU. The University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College are all designated health science centers, too.
With ETSU’s name change, approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents, there are now 110 health science centers in the country.
Wilsie Bishop, ETSU’s vice president for health affairs and university chief operating officer, said the name change will not change the way the university operates, nor will it open ETSU up to additional benefits, but it will better identify the school and what it does.
“We’ve probably been too hesitant to toot our own horn in relation to that, but we’re doing it now,” Bishop said. “We hope it’ll draw attention to the array and complexity to the health programs we offer at ETSU.”
ETSU has met the criteria for AAHC membership since 1989 but simply did not pursue the official name designation, said Bishop, who serves on the AAHC Board as the rural primary care representative.
One of the requirements for AAHC membership is to have a medical school, which ETSU has had since 1978. Additionally, ETSU has programs in nursing, public health, clinical and rehabilitative health sciences and pharmacy.
Of the 13 doctoral programs offered at ETSU, 11 of them are in the health sciences.
“So the kind of university ETSU is is different because of the health sciences,” Bishop said.
The university is currently studying adding a dental program, too. Bishop hopes to have the final report from a firm studying the feasibility of an ETSU dental school by the end of October or early November.
“But what they’ve found so far is the educational need for a program and the societal need for dentists,” Bishop said, adding the main remaining question relates to cost.
It would likely cost about $78 million to start a dental school.
One of the things being an officially designated health sciences center does is recognize the high level of health care provided to the region the center serves. In Northeast Tennessee, that health care is realized by the partnerships with hospitals in the Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont systems. ETSU health sciences students receive hands-on training at these hospitals.
“And so there is a definition and there’s an understanding of the kinds of programs you offer as a health sciences center,” Bishop said.