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New medical school aims to curb health care disparities

Ponce Health Sciences University is building a school in North St. Louis to help curb racial disparities in health care

ST. LOUIS — Ponce Health Sciences University is building a school in north St. Louis to help curb racial disparities in health care. It’s an $80 million project next door to the National Geospacial Agency currently under construction near the intersection of Jefferson and Cass Avenues.

“Those types of jobs are life-changing,” Founder and Oakville Native Dr. David Lenihan said. 

He noticed classroom success doesn’t always equate to the real world. Countless communities across the country don’t have adequate health care. A lack of homegrown physicians is part of the problem.

"If you don't trust your doctor and he says you have to take a vaccine, you will say 'Wait a second,'" Lenihan said.

The fact was made more evident during the pandemic. PHSU is already teaching students in downtown St. Louis as well as several locations in Puerto Rico. Lenihan said a lack of cultural understanding, lack of knowledge on the socio-economic barriers and language barriers have made it difficult to form connections between physicians and the community. Lenihan said at PHSU students get an individualized education plan which helps boost them to be future healers in the community.

"This is a major problem, when we look at health care outcomes in these communities, infant mortality rate, whether or not you trust your physician, we have to start improving these metrics," he said.

Lenihan said he puts his students up against the best in the country.

“They all go into the same pool then the residency program picks students. the benefit our students have they are bi-cultural, that makes them valuable,” he said.

PHSU is partnering with Mercy Hospital System. They said pairing up was an easy decision since both organizations’ missions start with community trust.

"The data they are showing is they do well on tests scores, get into great residencies which shows they are making it,” Dr. Phineas Oren, Mercy Health said. “The residencies wouldn't be taking them if they weren't qualified for positions.”