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New Rockford facility expands rural medicine, pharmacy programs

‘We have a vision to be a health sciences campus’

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New Rockford campus addition
The new expansion is home to the National Center for Rural Health Professions and the College of Pharmacy at Rockford.

Photo: Larson & Darby Group

The Rockford campus will celebrate the opening Thursday of its new addition, which provides space for new health science initiatives — including the College of Pharmacy at Rockford — and updated facilities for existing programs.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for the 58,000-square-foot addition takes place from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 1601 Parkview Ave., Rockford.

“For years, it’s been a dream — people have talked about the addition for about 10 years,” said Martin Lipsky, regional dean of the Rockford campus.

“It’s really exciting to see, after all this time, that it actually has happened.

“We believe that our classrooms and facilities now match the best of any health science campuses in the country.”

The new space — which includes a new library commons, high-tech classrooms and standardized patient suites and laboratories — houses the National Center for Rural Health Professions and a new College of Pharmacy program that emphasizes rural practice.

Over the next four years, the Rockford campus anticipates it will grow to more than 500 students, more than doubling its current size.

The campus raised almost $4 million in a capital campaign for the project. The rest of the $26.5 million cost came from state, federal and university funds.

Addressing rural, urban health disparities

“A key part of the expansion is the National Center for Rural Health Professions, which addresses health disparities that exist between rural and urban communities through promoting careers in rural health, conducting research and providing service to rural communities,” Lipsky said.

“They recruit medical students from rural communities with the intention that they’ll go back and practice in their rural area. Their mission is a combination of outreach, as well as education and research.”

Researchers at the health center conduct studies on topics such as improving cancer care in rural areas and addressing manpower issues in rural communities.

The inaugural pharmacy class of 50 students will include a collaborative program with the College of Pharmacy and the National Center for Rural Health Professions to attract students interested in careers in rural pharmacy.  

“The program will help to address the shortage of both physicians and pharmacists in rural areas,” Lipsky said.

“There are a lot of small-town pharmacies that have pharmacists who are retiring, and we’re trying to educate and train the next generation of pharmacists to take their place in these communities.

“We really look at the rural roots of a student before they get accepted into the program.”

Serving students outside Chicago

The rural pharmacy program will be patterned after Rockford’s rural medicine program, providing the same core pharmacy curriculum as the Chicago campus, combined with special topics in rural health, said Jerry Bauman, dean of the UIC College of Pharmacy.

The high-tech facilities at Rockford will allow more distance education opportunities so that when a lecture is being given in Chicago, Rockford students can watch, too.

The pharmacy program addresses the need for in-state, public educational programs for both rural Illinois students and those cities in the northern and central parts of the state, Bauman said.

“Right now, we get most of our students from Chicagoland and we always have,” he said.

“A lot of students who might not want to come to inner-city Chicago will have another opportunity to go to the University of Illinois. It better serves the state in providing health care professionals more broadly throughout the Illinois.”

College of Pharmacy at Rockford employees will include about 20 full-time faculty,12 support staff members and about 10 teaching assistants, Bauman said.

David Bartels, clinical professor of pharmacy practice, is the College of Pharmacy’s regional dean.

The Rockford campus is also expanding its nursing program and its master’s program in biotechnology, Lipsky said.

Seven students graduated with master’s degrees in biotechnology this year and 20 more begin the program this fall.

“We are trying to be more than a College of Medicine here — we have a vision to be a health sciences campus,” Lipsky said.

“We want to make our communities a better and healthier place to live through education, research and service.”


Below: David Bartels, regional dean of the College of Pharmacy at Rockford, during the facility's construction.

david bartels, new regional dean of pharmacy

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