A healthy Commonwealth Medical College can do wonders for region

Boosters of The Commonwealth Medical College don’t want you to think of the med school as a Scranton-only institution, and with good reason.

This startup college serves the entire region and, based on its potential economic and other impacts, it’s arguably among the best things to happen to Northeastern Pennsylvania since the arrival of Interstate 81. Now in its sixth year, TCMC exists primarily to boost the number of doctors, including specialists, who practice in this part of the state. That means more local patients, and their money, will stay in Luzerne, Lackawanna and surrounding counties when they seek health care.

But having a medical school in our midst offers many other benefits, too.

Dr. Steven Scheinman, the college’s dean and chief cheerleader since 2012, recently visited with the Times Leader’s Opinion Board to offer his assessment of TCMC’s condition today and to outline some of its aspirations. His enthusiasm for the college’s mission is, dare we say, infectious.

“I think we’re just at the beginning of what we can accomplish,” Scheinman told us.

After a rocky period, TCMC has more recently strengthened its financial position thanks to increased federal support and rising student admissions. In fact, it’s dean no longer is actively looking for a hospital or university with which to potentially partner, he said. Meanwhile, the college has received accreditation from two agencies and learned that its students’ performance on board exams exceeds the national average.

Less than two years from now, the recipients of TCMC’s first medical degrees, who are serving their residencies at places such as the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Walter Reed National Military Center, will be practicing. (And you can bet they’ll be hearing from someone at their alma mater, encouraging them to “come back home.”)

Administrators at The Commonwealth Medical College recognize the financial burden of student loans on their graduates; some are saddled with debt of $180,000 or more. So a campaign quietly has begun to ramp up the college’s endowment and supply more scholarships. Last week, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Health Care Foundation became an early backer, pledging $3.2 million over the next decade.

Would-be donors should be aware their contributions to TCMC, beyond aiding a student achieve his or her dream, also support this region’s well-being.

TCMC spurs economic activity by purchasing goods and services as well as by providing its faculty and staff with good salaries. Its academic whizzes increasingly will participate in projects, such as Geisinger’s Genome Research Center in Forty Fort, benefiting patients globally, but also focus on regional-specific issues, such as access to mental health services.

TCMC’s Scranton-based headquarters has, from the start, been complemented by campuses in Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport, with the Stroudsburg area emerging as another likely site.

If all goes as planned, this medical school won’t one day be known as a Scranton success story. It’ll be the success story of an entire region.

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