From abortion to assisted suicide to in vitro fertilization, moral challenges in the field of medicine abound in the United States.
The Catholic Church proclaims the dignity of every human life. But protecting that dignity in the medical field requires doctors who are formed in a Catholic worldview and morality, says Dr. George Mychaskiw, II, DO.
Mychaskiw believes the nine Catholic medical schools in existence in the U.S. fall short in offering that formation.
And he is hoping to help fill what he sees as an important gap in the field of Catholic medical education.
Mychaskiw is the founding president and CEO of the Saint Padre Pio Institute for the Relief of Suffering, which will be opening at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas in 2026.
An osteopathic doctor with a background in anesthesiology, Mychaskiw has helped develop eight medical schools in the United States. The Padre Pio Institute will be the first Catholic medical school he has helped found.
Charles Camosy talked with Mychaskiw about the upcoming medical school, its inspiration and namesake, as well as how he sees the project fitting into the current cultural moment in the United States.
This isn't your first go-round when it comes to putting together a medical school from scratch. Can you tell us about the first one?
The first medical school I started was the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Having grown up in Southern Colorado, I was interested in the Southern Border region, as the people there suffer from tremendous health disparities and poor health outcomes, notwithstanding the entire issue around migration and the border. I knew that one way to positively impact health care is to locate an osteopathic medical school in an underserved area, which dramatically changes the regional health status, education and economy.
Osteopathic medical schools are relatively large, compared to allopathic (MD) medical schools and disproportionately produce more physicians in the areas of practice needed most in today’s environment, including family and internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN and psychiatry.
I developed a model for a private, independent, separately funded, accredited and governed medical school to reside on a host college campus, so that the medical school could enjoy the student life and academic advantages of a large university and the university could have a medical school on its campus, without the tremendous expense and development complexities.
I put together a white paper describing this and shopped it around to universities and cities near the border, with a proposal of, “Are you interested in hosting a medical school? Here is how it works.” New Mexico State University (NMSU) and the City of Las Cruces responded very positively. I met with people in the community and at NMSU and we all concluded it was a good idea. John Hummer, a local real estate developer and former hospital administrator joined me and we recruited leadership and faculty, found the money to do the project, built a beautiful 80,000 square foot building. About 3 years and a month after I first met people in Las Cruces, we matriculated 162 medical students into the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, at New Mexico State University.
BCOM has a strong mission to serve the region, improve the health status of the Southern Border and Northern Mexico and diversify the physician workforce. Today, BCOM is very successful and a model of a medical school meeting the pressing health care needs of a much-underserved area and people that the American health care system “forgot” about. It has, since opening, been among the most diverse medical schools in the US and is one of the largest producers of Hispanic physicians in the country.
After BCOM, I was also involved in the development of the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, at Idaho State University (the first medical school in Idaho), the California Health Sciences University, College of Osteopathic Medicine, near Fresno and the NYIT branch campus College of Osteopathic Medicine, at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.
What or who led you to your current project? And what's behind the name you've chosen for it, the Saint Padre Pio Institute for the Relief of Suffering?
As a devout Ukrainian Catholic, I have always wanted to develop a traditional Catholic medical school that would, through its work and the practice of its graduates, spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. All of my previous projects have been very mission-oriented and focused on underserved populations, but they have all been secular colleges. I felt there was a need for more involvement of faith and Catholic bioethics in medical education and had been thinking about that for some time.
One day, a couple of years ago, I was reading something from Cardinal Raymond Burke, and he mentioned that Catholic Healthcare International (CHI) was considering developing a hospital and medical school in the charism of Saint Padre Pio. I found CHI on the web and wrote to their general info address about my interest. Something like, “I read that you want to do a Catholic medical school. I have developed several schools and also want to open a Catholic medical school.”
Jere Palazzolo, the president of CHI, called me and we found that we are very philosophically aligned on Catholic bioethical values and the role of faith in medicine. Jere and I, along with his team at CHI, started working on the project, to bring a truly faithful Catholic medical school into existence, and the Holy Spirit has led us to this point, where we have an agreement in place to develop the medical school, in my host university model, on the campus of Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas.
The name of the school is based on the hospital that Saint Pio opened in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, the “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza,” that is, “Home for the Relief of Suffering.” In the 1950s, Padre Pio developed a small hospital in rural Italy, with the plan that, by its care for the ill and suffering, the “twice Jesus,” it would serve as the seed for a chain of Casas around the world, bring hope and healing to the helpless.
Today, the Casa in Italy is a 1000 bed, major research medical center, but no other hospitals have opened and there is no medical school at the San Giovanni Rotondo facility.
In 2009, CHI signed an affiliation agreement with the Casa to replicate it in the United States and they have been pursuing that from their home diocese in Lansing, Michigan. Both Cardinal Burke, their episcopal advisor, and Bishop Earl Boyea, of Lansing, however, strongly emphasized the need for a medical school at the U.S. Casa, as training future physicians in the charism of Saint Pio is an important multiplier of his good works. So, in the fall of 2020, CHI and I found each other and the rest, as they say, is history.
What are some ways in which this school responds to our current moment?
The genocide of 65 million children since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 could not have been accomplished without the ready, willing, and able participation of physicians. The elderly and infirm, the disabled and brain injured, the most vulnerable in our hospitals and health care centers are seen as a burden and somehow less human and “worthy” of life. They are systematically murdered, not by withholding of mechanical ventilation and potent, extraordinary medicines, but by the withholding of simple nutrition and hydration - that is, they die of starvation and thirst, and this is promulgated by physicians as a “humane” way to hasten death.
The bloodlust of the pro-abortion movement, which confuses and uses dishonest analogies to describe the purposeful ending of a human life as a “private choice,” is disturbing, as is the rush to de-humanize persons suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, brain injuries and other disabilities as having poor “quality of life.” If this idea of “life unworthy of life” sounds familiar, it was the phrased used by Nazi Germany, “lebsunwerten leben,” in its program to kill disabled children, the mentally ill, the elderly and, of course the other victims of the holocaust, who were seen as “less human” than others.
This medical school will stand for the life and dignity of each and every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, from conception until natural death. Medical schools teach what is popular, like gender ideology, affirmation and transition, even for minors, rather than the unpopular truth that gender dysphoria is a psychiatric condition that should be treated with compassion and respect, but treated, rather than celebrated as a part of popular culture. This medical school will directly, competently and unapologetically face those hard truths and train generations of physicians, in a faithful Catholic framework, to care for and relieve the suffering of the difficult pregnancies, the mentally disabled, elderly, the gender confused, the lost and lonely, the patients in need of help and you and me. These physicians will take back the culture of death and set things right in our very broken health care system and serve as a model for other physicians and medical schools to do what is right, rather than what is popular.
I'm intrigued, in particular, by the attachment of the Terri Schiavo Home for the Brain Injured. How does this fit into the overall goals and mission for the project?
CHI has, as part of its mission, the creation of a clinical facility, that is, a hospital for the relief of suffering. Part of this is a subacute care facility, the Terri Schiavo home.
We know that the brain injured, disabled, elderly and others who are unable to care for themselves or communicate are relegated by the medical system to a “less than human” status and suffer health disparities and poorer health outcomes than otherwise similar patients who are more alert and aware. They are seen as a burden and require substantial clinical support. These are among the people whom secular medicine judges to have a lower quality of life and are more likely to be euthanized, sometimes by withholding ordinary care of nutrition and hydration, as was the case with Terri Schiavo.
Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother, operates the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Foundation, which is a resource for families of patients suffering from brain injuries and other neurologic conditions and who are struggling to find appropriate, life-affirming care for their loved ones. He is also affiliated with CHI.
The intention of the Terri Schiavo home is to be waystation for these patients to receive optimal medical care and rehabilitation, so that they may transition to home or other subacute care and not be relegated to a status of “life as a burden” (another Nazi term, “leben nur als laft”). As is the case with the medical school and hospital, we hope that this will serve as an example for others that a “merciful death” (yet another Nazi term), should not be the first thought that comes to mind when developing a plan of care.
I imagine there's much to do between now and 2026 in terms of fundraising to get things off the ground. But, beyond that, how can folks be supportive of the project? Especially if they might want to formally participate in some way?
Of course, we ask everyone to keep us in their prayers. All of our work is built on a foundation of prayer and we know that, in his time, the Holy Spirit will guide us on this mission. A medical school is a highly complex and regulated entity. There are hundreds of performance and quality benchmarks that must be met along the journey from idea to opening doors. This takes a team of talented individuals from many walks of life, particularly science and medicine.
In our case, we will also have a significant emphasis on Catholic bioethics and theology, as applied to medicine and the human body, mind and spirit. We intend for every medical student to graduate with both a degree in medicine and a master’s degree in Bioethics and Medical Theology, so that they become thought leaders in this field.
There is a lot of additional information about the medical school at the CHI website. The students will spend their first two years of education in classrooms that will be located at the facility on the Benedictine College campus. Their last two years will be in Catholic and other faithful hospitals and with physicians around the U.S. We will need help in classroom and clinical areas, as well as from those experienced in higher education administration and finance. I can easily be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and am happy to answer any questions and expressions of interest as regards working with the medical school.
I do need to include the disclaimer that we are not yet licensed or approved by any accrediting body or agency to solicit students, make offers of admission or begin instruction, and nothing that we have discussed here should be construed as such. When the time comes for that, we will make the appropriate announcements on our website and in the media.