Sam Houston State University may be expanding beyond the county line once again with the potential construction of a medical school in the Conroe area.
Though nothing is set in stone at the moment, university officials have been working with a developer on securing land in Montgomery County for the future construction of a medical facility where students in the field can get hands on experience while fulfilling a need in the community.
“As you know there is a shortage of health and medical professionals in the state,” university spokeswoman Julia May said. “As always, we are looking at ways we can meet demands in the workforce and to serve the state’s population, because that’s part of our mission. So, as we’ve seen this need become more and more critical, obviously we now have the nursing program which is fully accredited, and we are looking at other ways we can address this critical need for health professionals. So that is one of the ideas that we are considering.”
According to Dean of Health Sciences Michael Lacourse, although the plan is only in its infant stage, it currently includes graduate degree programs in osteopathic medicine, advanced practice nursing, physician assistant studies, physical therapy, occupational therapy and possibly mental health programs through a collaboration with the Department of Psychology.
“In the current plan, the medical school would not be part of the College of Health Sciences, but we do plan to integrate the osteopathic school with current and future clinical health sciences degree programs offered by the College of Health Sciences,” Lacourse said. “In fact, we are excited to be developing an innovative instructional approach that will offer students an inter-professional learning experience so they are prepared to work in team-based models of care when they graduate.”
Additionally, proposed undergraduate degree programs include medical laboratory sciences, diagnostic imaging, health informatics and dental hygiene. Lacourse added that they will begin offering some of their recently approved degree programs at The Woodlands Center as early as this spring in nursing, healthcare administration, public health and wellness management.
“All of our clinical programs require students to complete a portion of their education in a clinical environment, so the demand we would create for access to hospitals and other health care organizations would be significant,” Lacourse said. “By locating in Montgomery County, we will be much closer to the growing number of clinical sites available in Montgomery County and North Houston.”
According to May, one of the main reasons Montgomery County is so desirable is due to its recent growth in population.
“Nothing but good things [can come of the Health Sciences Center],” she said. “I mean just even talking about it now we hear a lot of excitement. Montgomery County is experiencing a big population growth, and there are parts of Montgomery County that are medically underserved right now, a lot of it east of I-45. It’s not just The Woodlands and Conroe, it’s a very big county. Everybody just is so excited, health professionals, those in Huntsville… It’s a wonderful opportunity for students, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for citizens.”
With the recent construction of SHSU’s Woodlands Center, some accusations have been made that SHSU is outgrowing Huntsville. Student Body President Spencer Copeland said he agrees with both May and the accusations.
“I think that it’s probably a combination of both,” Copeland said. “It’s hard to find more land to expand here in Huntsville, but there’s also the factor that the average student is from the Woodlands-Conroe area. By having another location there, we are better able to serve those students and also attract more students to our university.”
According to May, however, the 30-minute drive between SHSU’s main campus and the potential medical school has more to do with serving the Conroe community.
“Well, it’s no secret that we’re landlocked here in Huntsville,” May said. “But the other thing is that, we are tasked with meeting a need for our region, and the region is sometimes beyond the boundaries of Huntsville and Walker County. So if we are able to meet these needs in an area that is very close by, then that’s what we will do.”
Lacourse said that not only will this program invest in the futures of its students, but also in the future of Texas.
“According to the Texas demographer, a decade ago the primary industry employer in all counties across the state was in manufacturing,” Lacourse said. “Now, in nearly all counties the largest industry employer is health and medical and it is predicted that within a very few years, the primary employer in every county in Texas will be in health and medical. With a job market shifting to health and medical professions, we want to provide our students with opportunities to earn a high quality Sam Houston degree and find employment in this expanding career space.”
May said that because the idea of the medical school is still up in the air and in primitive stages of development, no time frame could be given on when to expect progress on the idea.
“We’re hopeful that the earlier the better but there are just so many steps between now and that time that it’s just impossible to say,” she said.
Regardless of how long the plan takes to unfold, Lacourse said that the goal will always remain the same.
“The most important benefit is that it will provide increased access for students to obtain an education in the health sciences and serve the citizens of East Texas,” Lacourse said. “These new programs will also increase the regional supply of health care professionals, which is one of the most rapidly growing population centers in the county. We anticipate a significant increase in the demand for well-trained health and medical professionals along with this population growth, especially with the many new hospitals being built nearby.”
Like any other notion of progress, May said that SHSU has nothing but positive expansion in its future.
“We are always looking at trends and needs and workforce expectations and what students are interested in, so we’re certainly not staying still at all,” May said. “We are constantly looking at things that will benefit our students and also the area.”