MUSC, USC at odds over Upstate medical school idea

The Medical University of South Carolina's Ashley River Tower.

A proposed medical school expansion in Greenville likely wouldn't affect the number of qualified students who enroll at the Medical University of South Carolina, said President Ray Greenberg.

The university has many more qualified applicants than it has spaces in the medical school, he said.

But he still has questions about whether a University of South Carolina proposal to expand its medical school program in Greenville is needed, and whether that expansion could actually produce the type of the doctors the state needs.

University of South Carolina provost Michael Amiridis said expansion plans are not final, but the University's Board of Trustees could approve an initial proposal as early as today.

The university has about 330 medical students in Columbia, he said. And since the early 1990s, third- and fourth-year students also can attend at the Greenville campus, which is connected to the Greenville Hospital System. About 50 to 60 students attend in Greenville now. But the expansion would allow first- and second-year students to attend in Greenville as well, Amiridis said.

The goal is to eventually increase enrollment in Greenville to about 400 students. And the expansion will not cost the state more money because it will be paid for with tuition and money from the Greenville Hospital System, he said.

The plan is a good one because "there's a substantial need in South Carolina for physicians," he said. "And there's a substantial demand" from students for slots in medical school.

Greenberg said he hasn't seen the written proposal, so he could only comment on the general plan. But, he said, both MUSC and USC have recently increased enrollment in their medical schools, and a new school for osteopaths is set to open in Spartanburg. A top medical trade organization recommends that the United States produce about 20 percent more physicians to meet the needs of aging baby boomers, he said. The state already has increased medical school enrollment by nearly 20 percent, he said.

Greenberg also said there are a limited number of residency slots available in the country. "You can have more people graduate from medical school, but you need more residency slots," he said. "The two go hand-in-hand."

Tension over medical education is not new in South Carolina.

Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican who has served in the Legislature since 1979, said he remembers the establishment of the Columbia medical school being a big controversy that didn't fade away quickly.

Alex Sanders, former president of the College of Charleston, was a member of the state Legislature in the late 1970s and campaigned strongly for the medical school in Columbia. At the time, MUSC had a limited number of slots available for students, he said. "We were trying to produce more doctors in South Carolina."

There was resistance from many in the Charleston area at the time, he said.

Sanders said the tension lingers. When he was president of the College of Charleston, he tried to launch a public law school there. The State Commission on Higher Education, in reaction to the previous opening of a second medical school, was adamant it wouldn't approve a second professional school in the state, he said. South Carolina's only public law school is at USC in Columbia.

Sanders was one of five founders who eventually opened the private Charleston School of Law. He said he doesn't know if the state needs more spaces in its medical education programs now. "But I know this," he said. "Ford wishes there wasn't a Toyota. But because there is a Toyota, Ford makes a better car."

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.