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Why Marshall B. Ketchum University Has Invested in Optometry, PA, and Pharmacy Programs

MBKU has been educating optometrists for 120 years and the decision was made, now over 10 years ago, to expand through additional programs.

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AS THE PRESIDENT of a growing multi-discipline health care university, I unsurprisingly spend a good deal of time thinking about how and where to invest in the evolving future of health care and health care education. The institution I now lead, Marshall B. Ketchum University (MBKU), has been educating optometrists for 120 years and the decision was made, now over 10 years ago, to expand through additional programs. MBKU is now a fully interprofessional university that continues to thrive as we have devoted significant resources to our School of Physician Assistant Studies (SPAS), College of Pharmacy (COP) and Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO) programs.

SPAS: Filling the Gap

Because we were in pursuit of developing a university that emphasized an interprofessional approach to education, we wanted to strategically add programs that would integrate into that mission well, with an applicant pool that provided a stable foundation immediately and well into the future. After a comparatively short but extremely intense health care education, PAs become well-equipped to deliver exceptional and compassionate care for a wide variety of medical conditions. In recent years, there has been a concerning shortage of medical doctors in general practice and specialty practice. This deficit is worsening at a time when the United States faces a continuously aging population with health problems of increasing complexity. At the same time, there are just as many sprained ankles, earaches and common colds as there have ever been, and having more PAs allows us to triage patients, so to speak. PAs help to alleviate scarcities, filling gaps in care, both independent of and in collaboration with medical doctors. Patients who need more complicated care can be treated at more sophisticated levels of medicine. This helps to expand capacity overall in the medical community.

COP: Connected to Every Discipline

As MBKU considered other professions to invest in, we identified one in particular that stood out for how it cuts across so many levels of health care. Pharmacy is a tremendous ally as we embrace interprofessional education, because, inevitably, treatments for so many of these disorders are drug related. Additionally, as the profession of pharmacy continues to expand on its own in terms of the roles that pharmacists play in their communities, their ability to collaborate with other health care providers in treating patients comprehensively is increasingly essential. Investing in pharmacy allows us to train extremely accessible health care providers who, like PAs, also help fill many of the gaps in care in underserved and underrepresented communities.

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SCCO: More than Eyes

Naturally, we never stopped investing in our optometry curriculums. We knew that it would be a mistake as an established optometry program to look at our patients only in terms of their eyeballs, because we must consider their health holistically. A compassionate optometrist who is treating their patient in this way is often the first professional who can diagnose a potential health issue beyond the vision care they provide. The profession of optometry serves as a great partner to PA and pharmacy in terms of accessibility and the opportunities to work collaboratively in a team-based approach. The students in each of our three health care programs benefit from each other, as they learn about and share different approaches to addressing systemic and vision problems for better patient outcomes.

Interprofessional Practice

After the rigorous didactic instruction that is the hallmark of a good health care education, where we spend a great deal of our time in the laboratory and lecture talking about the value of interprofessional education, our students from all three programs come together at our medical facility, Ketchum Health. We view Ketchum Health as the pinnacle of fulfilling the promise of interprofessional education. There, all three of these professions can talk about patient care, practice it under the supervision of professor-mentors and bring their own special level of expertise to achieve the best outcomes for patients. I believe that we then are educating a group of providers that go into practice and have an increased understanding and sensitivity to the ultimate capabilities of other professions. This allows students to develop patterns where they learn to use each sector as a resource and work to manage patients together as a team, rather than individually.

Unrecognized Gems

As I mentioned before, the United States population in general is aging, with a wider variety of more complicated health issues. Compounding this problem is that our country currently has several “health care deserts,” where certain areas are oversupplied with providers and others are undersupplied. And while this is an enormous matter of concern without a simple solution, we believe that PAs, pharmacists and optometrists are uniquely suited to help alleviate these “deserts.”

I would go even further and argue that the three professions we currently have at our institution are unrecognized gems in health care delivery, in that their true capabilities and what they contribute to patient outcomes are often unrecognized, unrealized and misunderstood. We have this ongoing opportunity now at MBKU for all three of these professions to bring their special flavor of expertise to the table for the best patient outcomes.


About the Author
Julie A. Schornack

Julie A. Schornack

Dr. Julie A. Schornack is the second President of Marshall B. Ketchum University (MBKU) in Fullerton, California. Dr. Schornack has been at the college since 1986. Dr. Schornack received her optometry degree from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1984. She then completed a Masters of Education at Pacific University College of Optometry. She has also served as an Assistant Professor in the Cornea and Contact Lens Service where she had responsibilities in the lecture, laboratory and clinic. Dr. Schornack has also been involved in contact lens research and has lectured extensively on contact lens-related topics. Over the course of her time at the University she has served in a variety of positions including Associate Dean of Clinical Education, Vice President of Clinical Affairs for the Southern California College of Optometry and most recently, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff for the University. President Schornack was appointed the second president of MBKU on July 1, 2022.

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