August 25

Building a Medical School With Community Marketing


Community marketing is a unique approach to enrollment marketing that can help you build bridges to audiences yet to be tapped.

Audiences who are completely new to your education brand – or who are new to higher education at all! – can be skeptical of the opportunity you’re offering.

Especially when they consider the costs of higher education, it can be hard for them to see that it’s worth it. 

How can you build the brand trust necessary for them to enroll?

For Dr. Michael Rice, Director of Admissions at the yet to be launched Osteopathic Medical School at Duquesne University, the answer is in an innovative way of doing community marketing.

Duquesne University College of Osteopathic Medicine is currently being built from the ground up and will start matriculating students in 2024. 

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Dr. Rice shares the mission behind the school, the importance of connecting with underserved communities, and dismantling misconceptions about osteopathic medicine. 

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

Start with your mission.

Currently, Dr. Rice serves in admissions at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University. 

The Duquesne medical school is still not technically in existence. They will begin matriculating students in 2024.

Although they’re still a little ways out from starting classes, they’re beginning now to recruit students for the new program. 

To do this, Dr. Rice starts everything in his community marketing strategy with the mission of Duquesne.  

Something that is specific to the mission of Duquesne that will carry over to the medical school is serving underserved populations. 

These are underserved populations around the city of Pittsburgh, Western PA, and rural areas throughout the state. There are some urban pockets that are grossly underserved. The mission of Duquesne’s medical school is serving those underserved populations and recruiting students who have a heart of service. 

This speaks to the mission of the founding fathers of Duquesne University, and will definitely be carried forward in the medical school in terms of its mission and how we go about recruiting our students, faculty, and admin. 

That’s my charge. My mission from the very top of the institution is to recruit folks who want to be about the business of servitude and serving those who are less fortunate.

This very inclusive mission is just the beginning.

Besides desiring to serve those who are in the underserved community, Dr. Rice is trying to create a diverse campus, reflective of the real world.  

Also, we want to create a class, faculty, and staff that are reflective of society. 

Part of that – which is something I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with greatly here [at Ohio University] – is making sure there are pathway opportunities, access, and opportunity for black and brown students or other populations in rural settings who’ve been marginalized in the med school admissions.

The diverse and inclusive mission of Duquesne is noble, but it is certainly a challenge.

These populations are underrepresented in universities in general, let alone medical schools.

This is where we began to discuss Dr. Rice’s community marketing strategies to make this mission a reality.

Use community marketing to build brand trust.

Dr. Rice and his leadership team have been developing some unique ways to make their mission happen.

Dr. Kaufman, who is the Executive Dean of the new medical school, and I have had some extended talks about our vision, of how we would like to go about recruiting students who may not think that they have the opportunity to go to medical school and to build those trust factors within certain communities. 

Part of that, in terms of a community based type of recruitment, means that I’m going to [go to] barber shops and make them aware that we’re here to stay. That this is our commitment to you and to our community.

I want to go into local churches and synagogues and mosques to give them the same message showing that there’s a partnership [between us and the community]. We hope to build a synergy around those community based religious organizations to establish that open dialogue. 

[This way, we can build] a bridge to access an opportunity for those students who may have been marginalized in the past.

This is a community marketing approach to recruitment.

I’ve written a lot lately about finding the watering holes where your audience hangs out to get what they need. 

Go and place your messaging where your audience is already hanging out. This is so much easier than publishing your messaging and trying to drive your audience to that.

For Dr. Rice, finding the watering holes where his community is at means visiting various religious and cultural hangouts. 

But because the audience they’re trying to reach is skeptical about the idea of higher education, let alone the idea of becoming a doctor, it also means getting a little more personal.

Something Dr. Kaufman has talked about in terms of recruiting, [is the idea of] going into students’ homes, sitting down with their parents, and having a meal. 

You don’t see that type of recruitment for medical schools or other triple degree programs! That’s not really done. 

But what if we identify a student who is exemplary, and we want them at our school because we feel that they fit our mission and we have a wonderful education that they can benefit from to be the best that they can be? 

What if we went into their homes and sat down with their mother or their father, or their grandma or their Nana, and said… 

“Hey, we love your son or daughter, and we’d very much like to see them at Duquesne in our medical school! What do we need to do to make you feel comfortable in choosing us?” 

[Recruitment is] a two-way street. We might like [the prospective student], but [they and their family] may not like us, right? So there needs to be a comfort level for the parents.

[They need to know] that if we recruit your son or daughter to Duquesne, we’re going to graduate and care for them as if they were our very own. 

I want to have these honest conversations. Because the pursuit of medical education is daunting. It’s not always going to be peaches and cream! 

But we’re here to help you every step of the way. So you can get all that you can and be your very best.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Michael Rice to get even more insights into:

  • What it looks like to build a school from scratch
  • How to foster trust with potential students in underserved communities
  • Why you should recruit a class, faculty, and staff that are reflective of society

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