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Liberty Journal

Commitment to care

Winter/Spring 2013 : By Mitzi Bible

Liberty University held a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 9, 2012, for its new Center for Medical and Health Sciences. Several distinguished guests participated in the ceremony, including Liberty’s board of trustees and members of the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

As our nation’s leaders continue to battle over the issues surrounding health care — now perhaps more than any other time in history — Liberty University is keeping its finger on the pulse of the growing needs of the industry.

There’s no bigger sign of this commitment than the new Center for Medical and Health Sciences, now under construction on Liberty Mountain overlooking the main campus. The 138,000-square-foot, four-story facility will house the College of Osteopathic Medicine and several departments in Liberty’s School of Health Sciences. The goal is to place comprehensively trained, service-oriented, and clinically excellent physicians and other health care professionals into underserved areas of the state. Expected to be completed by Spring 2014, the program will matriculate its first class of osteopathic medical students in Fall 2014.

The $40 million facility will include a comprehensive medical clinic, extensive resource center and library, research center with multiple labs, and state-of-the-art simulation and standardized patient education facility.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine will become the second such school in the state and the 30th in the country. It will grant a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree, which has the same unlimited practice rights as the more common M.D. degree, but places a more prominent emphasis on a holistic, preventative health, patient-centered approach.

At the groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 9, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. called the project “the last piece of the puzzle” in his father’s vision to build a world-class university that would train Champions for Christ in all professions.

“I’m thrilled that all of you are getting to see the fulfillment of the dream and the vision take place,” Falwell told the crowd.

Members of Liberty’s administration, board of trustees, Lynchburg City Council, Campbell County Board of Supervisors, and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission were present at the event, as well as architects and contractors. Other local and regional leaders in attendance included Del. Kathy Byron (a member of the Tobacco Commission), Del. Scott Garrett, Michael Bryant, the CEO of Centra Health; Dr. Matt Johnson, the vice president for medical affairs at Centra; and Maria Harris, the executive director of the Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association.

Falwell said he was humbled to see how so many people have contributed to the project, calling it “the completion of a circle.”

“We knew the time had come to do this because there were so many signs that were providential. The right people were sent here, the Tobacco Commission so graciously helped us out … all the factors came together,” he said. “It couldn’t have happened without everything falling into place, without God’s intervention.”

Falwell said the site, facing the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, will no doubt be the medical school with the best view in the country. It was selected because of its location in Campbell County, making the school eligible to apply for grants from the Tobacco Commission. The commission uses proceeds from the national tobacco settlement to promote economic growth and development in communities that were tobacco-dependent for most of the 20th century.

At the ceremony, Del. Kathy Byron, along with Vice Chair Sen. Frank Ruff, presented a check for the commission’s total contribution of $20.5 million. “This is one of the largest investments in the history of the commission,” Byron said.

The project marks “the beginning of something that will be of great and lasting benefit to the people of our region and improve our community’s quality of life for generations to come,” she said, noting that it will serve as “the centerpiece of, and the magnet for, a burgeoning health care industry, providing for the needs of our region, and attracting more here.”

The center is expected to create an additional 400 new jobs in the next five years.

Byron called the project a testimony “to the vision of Liberty University’s leadership, its board, and the entire campus community.”

“They see the potential of our region and our people, they understand our needs and the needs of our world at large, and they have the drive and commitment to put their vision into action. … It’s further evidence that Liberty is a world-class university,” she said.

Like all academic programs at Liberty, the goal in establishing a College of Osteopathic Medicine is not only to send out graduates who have successful careers and become leaders in their chosen fields, but also to live out their Christian faith by meeting the true needs of the people they serve.

Dr. Ronnie B. Martin, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the nation is facing a shortage of up to 220,000 physicians by 2030. With 67 percent of the patients in Southern Virginia living in medically underserved areas, it is clear where Liberty can first begin to meet those needs.

Knowing residencies are required for each student, and that there is a shortage of those opportunities, Martin has spent much of his time working to forge relationships across the region.

“We’ve made a commitment here at Liberty University to partner with hospitals and community health care centers to help them expand the number of residencies so we can train and keep the physicians in our area,” Martin said during an interview following the groundbreaking. “We know that when students leave the state to do their residency, 75 percent of them don’t come back.”

Virginia is a “net exporter” of physicians right now, with about 60 percent of graduates leaving the state’s medical schools to do their residency. “We develop the best and the brightest, we expend a lot of state resources educating them — and they go out of state,” said Martin. “So Liberty is going to work very hard to develop residencies in the state that will allow us to keep that talent here.”

The clinical rotation cycle will largely be in Southern Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

The school will offer a tuition discount to attract students from those underserved areas, knowing that these students are the same individuals who are most likely to return to those areas to raise their own families.

Creating those partnerships has been much of the initial work in establishing the program, along with developing a curriculum and creating detailed follow-through plans as the school seeks accreditation from the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, as well as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

There are plans to hire close to 100 staff for the D.O. program. Associate deans have already been named: Eric E. Gish, D.O., associate dean for clinical affairs; Timothy O. Leonard, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for biomedical affairs and research; and Joseph F. Smoley, Ph.D., M.M., associate dean for academic affairs.

The D.O. program will train students to “focus on primary and community-based practices,” to “recognize the needs of patients across this nation and across the globe,” and will expect them to “demonstrate a commitment of service toward their fellow man and remain focused on the Christian values of integrity and professionalism, while being educated to provide ethical, compassionate, competent, and patient-centered medical care, with Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, as their role model,” Martin said.

The first class will have about 150 students.

“I am confident that there will not be a better designed, equipped, or more technologically advanced medical college in the United States than what we’re developing right here on this campus,” Martin said at the groundbreaking. “I know there are schools that will rival us, that will try to imitate us, but I promise you that none will exceed what we will be able to offer our students.”