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Idaho State University
Bengals enter Idaho's medical school

Four Bengals Enter Idaho’s First Medical School

Chris Gabettas

Tyler Cunningham, 25, was working in the emergency room at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls when he got a phone call last January. 

It was the admissions representative from the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in Meridian telling him he’d been accepted into ICOM’s inaugural class that would begin in fall. The private medical school is located next to the Sam and Aline Skaggs Health Science Center on the east side of the Idaho State University-Meridian campus.

“I was ecstatic,” said Cunningham, who’d been interested in medicine as a kid. “Watching my grandmother battle cancer cemented my decision to become a physician.”

Amber Wright, 23, was visiting a friend in Pocatello last February when she received her call. “When they told me I was accepted, I was so excited,” she recalled.

The next chapters of their lives will be daunting—four years of rigorous classroom study and clinical rotations, followed by medical residencies that can last three to eight years, depending on the specialty.

Three Bengals in first ICOM class, Tyler Cunningham (left), Julian Franzen and Amber Wright

Fourth Bengal Kallie Harrington

Cunningham and Wright are two of four Bengals in ICOM’s Class of 2022, which contains 162 students. Both hold bachelor’s degrees from ISU in biology with an emphasis in biomedical science—Cunningham earned his in 2015 and Wright in 2017. The other Bengals are Julian Franzen, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, and Kallie Harrington, who received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2014.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for me ... not only to study medicine but to set the standard for generations to come,” said Cunningham, who hopes to practice in Idaho after medical school.


ISU Appreciation Day

Construction of the three-story, $34 million ICOM building began in spring 2017, 15 months after Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced plans to locate the state’s first medical school on the ISU-Meridian campus. An affiliation agreement approved by the Idaho State Board of Education allows the independently operated ICOM to lease the land from ISU for 40 years.

On Aug. 1, ICOM administrators hosted an ISU Appreciation Day, celebrating the partnership and inviting ISU faculty and staff to tour the 94,000-square foot building.

“We are Bengals at heart,” said ICOM Founding Dean and Chief Academic Officer Robert Hasty, pointing to the Bengal logos that appeared on electronic screens throughout the building for the occasion.

“We want this to be a rich, long-lasting and meaningful partnership,” added ICOM President and Chief Executive Officer Tracy Farnsworth.

ISU and ICOM leaders note the partnership will allow for interprofessional education, sharing of resources and collaboration on research.

Idaho currently ranks 49th in the nation in the number of doctors per capita and 50th in the number primary care physicians.

“Together we will make a difference. We’re going to put Idaho where it needs to be in terms of having access to excellent and high-quality care in all of Idaho, including the rural areas,” Hasty said.

Cunningham and Wright believe their undergraduate education at ISU has prepared them well for the rigors of medical school. Both worked as medical scribes—Cunningham at EIRMC and Wright for a women’s health clinic in Boise—before entering med school.

Wright, who grew up nurturing “tons of pets and animals” near Idaho City in rural Boise County, knew as a teenager she wanted to study medicine. Working in home health and shadowing community doctors reinforced her desire to become a physician.

She’d like to practice in Idaho—perhaps operating a free women’s clinic in rural Boise County where patients have limited access to medical care.

 “I know that being a doctor is a lifelong experience of learning and service to others and those are both things that bring me a lot of joy,” Wright said.