Missouri governor promotes health care professional education program

Thursday, October 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — At a time when Missouri is grappling with 9.5 percent unemployment, Gov. Jay Nixon highlighted a new program Wednesday to train more health care professionals.

About 470 future medical professionals will train at four-year schools through the Caring for Missourians program, he said. Hundreds more will be able to study at two-year schools.

The program won't be an overnight cure for the high levels of unemployment, but Nixon said the state is seeking to fund training in good-paying fields in need of employees.

"We know doctors' offices, clinics and hospitals are still hiring, often as quickly as they can," he said at a news conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "The demand for health services is increasing every day."

Caring for Missourians is being paid for with $40 million from federal economic stimulus money, which had initially given some institutions pause about committing to the effort when they weren't sure about future dollars. Nixon said he thinks  Caring for Missourians is going well, and he thinks a strong argument can be made to the legislature to fund the effort in the future.

The College of Optometry's dean, Larry Davis, said the school hadn't needed to debate how to use its share of the money, saying it will help pay for scholarships, new technology in labs and clinics and more teaching time. He said the program, which is the only optometry college in the state, typically graduates about 40 students. The university hopes to boost the number of graduates to 44. The public university has long-term hopes for a new $70 million building for optometry and nursing to additionally expand those programs.

Nixon said the school for eye doctors will add four students over the next four years with the money, to train an additional 16 people. The St. Louis school will add 31 spots for students in beginning or advanced nursing.

Another 253 nursing degree spaces will be available at MU , Lincoln University, Missouri State University, Missouri Western State University, Southeast Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri, Truman State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Those schools — along with Harris-Stowe State University, Missouri Southern State University and the Missouri University of Science & Technology — will also train more students in other health care fields.

The funds will allow for more new doctors, dentists and therapists, as well as more students to train to be medical technicians and in the areas of pharmacology, cardiology and communication disorders. Nixon said of 471 new spots total, 118 will become permanent program expansions.

Optometry student Stephen Purdy, 28, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, said he believes the funds can provide a boost to medical training in Missouri, which should lead to health care improvements. "If more primary care health professionals are available, it'll make access to health care more affordable and accessible," he said.

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