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Tower Health is based in Berks County, which borders Lancaster County. 

By 2020, medical students may be able to choose from two options in counties that border Lancaster.

Reading-based Tower Health and Philadelphia-based Drexel announced Monday that they’re partnering to build a Berks County branch campus of Drexel’s College of Medicine.

A news release said they would like the campus to be located close to Reading Hospital, “but a final site has not been identified.” If they secure the necessary approvals and all goes as planned, the campus would start accepting students in 2020.

Currently, the closest destination for medical students is Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Dauphin County, which had about 150 aspiring doctors in its latest incoming class.

Drexel reported 13,287 applicants for its latest class of medical students, from which it accepted 260.

Both medical schools also offer a variety of other graduate and doctoral degrees; Penn State said among its current enrollees, 597 are medical students, 283 are graduate students and 58 are in the physician assistant master’s program.

The need

In a news release, Tower Health President and CEO Clint Matthews said the collaboration “also addresses the challenge of an increased demand for highly trained physicians, and will provide a positive economic impact to the Berks County region.”

Last year a study commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges said the U.S. could have a shortage of more than 100,000 physicians by 2030 because the number of doctors isn’t keeping pace “with the demands of a growing and aging population.”

The association said it was urging federal support for an additional 3,000 residency positions annually for five years, noting that, “Although medical schools have expanded class sizes, it will be hard to increase the overall number of practicing physicians without greater support for graduate medical education.”

Dr. Michael Consuelos, senior vice president of clinical integration Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, said the state has a distribution problem, with physicians clustered in the metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, which has multiple medical schools.

“People tend to practice where they train,” he said. “Hopefully will happen is that medical students who train at that campus will also then maybe take residencies here in central Pennsylvania and will have a tendency to stay in this part of the state.”

He also noted that a lot of U.S. residents go to medical school in other countries, then come back here to practice, because the medical schools here can’t handle all of them.

That being the case, he said, he doesn’t think a new program here will have a major impact on existing medical schools in the state or nation.

Dr. Theodore Christopher, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said in an email that the organization "certainly hopes for success of this development" and that "Increasing opportunities for those interested in studying medicine with dreams of becoming a physician are welcome."