Erik Wallace, M.D., is one of the newest staff members at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. An internal medicine physician and associate dean, Wallace is working full-time getting the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s branch campus up and running. He’s recruiting students and faculty. In addition to his role at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Wallace plans to practice medicine in Colorado Springs. He had worked 10 years at the branch campus at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. When the job opened to establish a branch medical campus of the CU system, he “jumped at the chance.” His passion is medical education. Wallace and his wife Nichole have two daughters.
How has your career prepared you for your current position?
I completed medical school at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Internal Medicine training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Although I received an outstanding medical education, what I primarily learned was how to diagnose and treat illness from a doctor’s perspective. During my tenure as faculty at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, I learned about the individual and public health barriers that patients face when trying to be healthy and productive members of society. Understanding and addressing the social determinants of health from the patient’s perspective is essential for physicians to provide high-quality, interdisciplinary care in the 21st century. As a clinician-educator, I have had the opportunity to develop innovative medical education programs for students, residents and faculty at both local and national levels. Colorado Springs has not had a structure for medical education, so it now has an opportunity to develop unique education models that provide a superior experience for medical students who are engaged in improving the health of the community.
The Colorado Springs Branch is the first branch of the CU School of Medicine. How does one go about creating a medical school branch?
There has been tremendous growth in medical school branches in the past decade in the U.S. The branches not only help medical schools expand their class sizes to train more doctors, but these branches allow students to learn and work in communities where there are new clinical training opportunities and where there are physician shortages. The success of medical school branches, including the Colorado Springs branch, depends on the support of the main medical school campus and the support of the community where it is located. Creating a brand new medical school is extraordinarily expensive — several hundred million dollars. Creating a branch of an existing medical school is far more cost-effective.
When will this campus have medical students?
The first cohort of students dedicated to the Colorado Springs branch will start their third-year clinical rotations in Colorado Springs in April 2016. We’ll try to engage some of these students in the community before 2016 as part of other clinical experiences or scholarly activities during their first two years of medical school.
Why should we build the number of young professionals here, and how will a branch of the CU Medical School help?
The future economic success of a community depends on the community’s ability to attract young professionals. Two of the biggest potential areas of economic growth are higher education and health care. Also, physicians tend to stay and practice in the area where they received their medical training. So if Colorado Springs provides an outstanding educational experience for medical students and residents, then this community will be able to recruit and retain a greater number of young physicians who want to stay and practice here.
What surprised you most about Colorado Springs?
I am surprised at how similar Colorado Springs is to Tulsa, Okla., where I lived and practiced for 10 years. Both communities are similar-sized, have extremely friendly people, and they have very fragmented health care systems with unequal access to high-quality health care. Also, they both have health disparities. I am thrilled there are so many people in this community passionate about improving the community’s health. Tulsa has started to do many things differently, and I have no doubt Colorado Springs has the ability to do things differently to improve the health of its community. I could not be happier to be a part of this community and to collaborate with the wonderful people I have met so far.
What are your plans to practice medicine here?
As an internist by training, my specialty is caring for adults with complex medical problems. My clinical passion is primary care as I appreciate developing long-term relationships with patients. My part-time outpatient clinical practice, which I will probably start later this year, will be designed to accommodate the Colorado Springs branch medical students. These students will follow our panel of patients longitudinally throughout their clinical training so that they will learn medicine from the patient’s perspective and will appreciate the importance of patient continuity. I am interested in recruiting other passionate clinician-educators who want to provide the same type of clinical experience for our students.