For Michael Horowitz, PhD, president of TCS Education System, community need and organizational strategy have always gone hand in hand. And nowhere is community need more urgent than across rural America and other underserved communities, where a dire shortage of trained health care professionals has left millions of people with inadequate access to routine health care and vital emergency services.
As a leader focused on education and community, Horowitz first became concerned about the enormous disparity in healthcare access decades ago, and in 2018, began exploring the question that has always been at the heart of TCS’s mission: How can we help our national community? From this inquiry, the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, (known as KansasCOM) — the first private, nonprofit medical school in the state of Kansas — was born.
Visionary purpose, practical expertise
A small group of passionate stakeholders from the Wichita-based Kansas Health Science Center and Riverside Health Foundation shared the vision for what would become KansasCOM. TCS brought the idea from its infancy to a pilot stage in 2018. Leveraging decades of expertise in higher education, Horowitz and the TCS leadership team were instrumental in establishing the financing, leadership, and infrastructure for the new school. TCS was the vital catalyst in aggregating millions of dollars in capital and accessing low-cost borrowing from multiple channels including Wichita’s Riverside Health Foundation and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, TCS’s largest university. TCS also managed the complex legal and regulatory processes that accompanied every aspect of launching the college, from real estate and land purchasing to licensing and accreditation.
“We’ve known for a while that establishing a medical school was the right move for our organization, but it had to be the right kind of medical school,” said TCS chief operating officer Deborah Markos. “We believe solving big societal problems requires tackling issues upstream with education and educational access. Health care is no different.”
During the KansasCOM planning stage, the TCS network proved essential in establishing the Kansas Health Science Center Board of Trustees and recruiting top administrators to lead the new initiative. This included the science center’s current president, Tiffany Masson, PsyD, who formerly served as a dean at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Ronnie Troy, a board member with community partner Riverside Health Foundation, described how the influx of expertise and talent from TCS propelled the new college from idea to activation: “We saw the need and we were willing to financially support this endeavor, but we didn’t necessarily know everything we needed to know. TCS was the missing piece of the puzzle.”
Building on a tradition of community commitment
While the TCS investment in communities underserved by health care is particularly timely, the organization’s commitment to community advancement through education is nothing new. Horowitz founded TCS — known as “The Community Solution in Higher Education” — in 2009, when slowing enrollments and rising operational costs began to threaten the financial stability of hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities. Together with the TCS founding Board of Trustees, Horowitz forged a new resource-sharing model driven by visionary ambition and radical cooperation that has helped TCS institutions survive, thrive and grow, while enhancing student outcomes.
TCS has expanded its model to universities seeking to share in its success as well as provide an education grounded in the principles of social responsibility and benefitting the global community.
“We’re strongly focused on the underserved, and we plan to make a community impact from day one,” said Kansas Health Science Center board chair Vadim Levitin, MD. “That makes us different from many medical schools, and it’s important, because it’s where the need is.”
The vision for KansasCOM, which will be located in Wichita, builds on a local tradition of osteopathic medical excellence that dates back as far as the 1950s. In addition to being part of a proud local legacy, osteopathy is also the best discipline to meet the community’s needs, given the inherent synergies between the “whole person” osteopathic philosophy and much-needed primary care.
Establishing a local pipeline of health care providers will begin before the first class of medical students even graduates, said KHSC president Masson. “Our goal is to get our students involved in community work from day one of their education. We know that the more students work in the community throughout their training, the more apt they are to want to do their residencies here in Kansas, and the more likely we are to retain them in the state over the course of their careers.”
Making tangible change where it matters most
In December 2021, KansasCOM received pre-accreditation from the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, enabling it to begin recruiting its first class of students for the fall of 2022. Despite the challenges of operating in today’s unpredictable economy and health care landscape, Dr. Horowitz sees a bright future for KansasCOM, and a model for other communities to emulate.
“Operating a college successfully involves putting a lot of highly complex pieces together,” he explains. “In Wichita, we assembled all the pieces — the passion, the expertise, the network. As this world-class medical institution fulfills the promise of transforming the face of health care across Kansas, we hope that other communities facing this challenge are inspired to pursue a similar model in the future.”
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