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Peoria anesthesiology program looks to fulfill an 'extreme' demand

Dr. Robert Sparrow, OSF Chief Medical and Academic Officer, answers questions about the new program in his office on the OSF campus.
Collin Schopp
Dr. Robert Sparrow, OSF Chief Medical and Academic Officer, answers questions about the new program in his office on the OSF campus.

A new program in Peoria is training the next generation of practitioners in a medical field facing incredibly high demand: anesthesiology.

The partnership between OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria welcomes its first 16 residents this July. Those residents will spend four years in the program. Over the next four years, Sparrow says he believes additional classes will bring the number up to 32.

“The demand for anesthesiologists is extreme,” said Dr. Robert Sparrow, the Chief Medical and Academic Officer for OSF. “Everybody is looking for anesthesiologists. And as a result of that, there’s a national shortage of them. That really requires educating more people.”

However, at the same time, there’s also a shortage of training programs for the field. Sparrow says that last year, nationally, around 50% of medical students searching for an anesthesiology residency couldn’t find a match.

In fact, outside of Chicago, the OSF program will be the only one of its kind in the state.

“So we thought that this would be an outstanding program for us to begin so that we could help create a pipeline to create anesthesiologists for Central Illinois and the community at large.” said Sparrow.

Sparrow says the lack of programs isn’t necessarily a specialization issue, but rather a question of investment. The costs for required educators, infrastructure and faculty can be quite high for these programs. The OSF program has 11 faculty members assigned.

“So you really have to have an institution that’s willing to invest in the infrastructure and the faculty that you need,” he said. “And as a result of that, a lot of institutions aren’t just willing to do that and to make that commitment.”

Sparrow estimates the program will cost OSF and the University of Illinois somewhere between $4-5 million dollars. At the lowest end of the estimate, that’s about $125,000 per student.

But, Sparrow says OSF and the University have a long and productive history working together. He says, with a clear and apparent need for more students in the profession, now is the time to utilize that partnership and help fill the gap.

“We have the ability to apply for these programs through the accreditation process for training programs,” he said. “And we decided that this was going to be an opportune time for us to do that.”

The inaugural class for the program has already been selected and will start in July. The next set of students will apply next March.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.