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Dr. Matthew Johnson, Dr. Ronnie Martin, and E.W. Tibbs
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Affiliation agreement brings city’s largest employers together

By Mitzi Bible, May 20, 2013
An artist's rendering of Liberty's new Center for Medical and Health Sciences.

An artist’s rendering of Liberty’s new Center for Medical and Health Sciences.

In a move that will bring Liberty University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) one step closer to its expected opening in Fall 2014, an affiliation agreement was reached this spring that secures clinical rotations for about 80 third- and fourth-year medical students in Centra facilities each academic year.

Centra is a regional nonprofit health care system that serves more than 300,000 residents in 38 locations throughout Central and Southside Virginia.

Liberty Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said the new college “would not be nearly as successful without the help of Centra, without the commitment on Centra’s part to take these students.”

“Thank you and we look forward to a long and beneficial relationship,” he told Centra’s executive team at a special celebration at Liberty’s Hancock Welcome Center.

Centra President and CEO E.W. Tibbs, Jr., who took the helm in April, called it “an exciting time in the history of Centra and at Liberty University.”

He said although Centra is not traditionally recognized as a teaching institution, its physicians are well-equipped for the task.

“Not only do physicians in our region have experience and expertise in caring for patients, they have a heart for helping students learn about the critical role physicians play in the lives and health of their patients,” Tibbs said.

Under the five-year agreement, Centra will provide equipment, supplies, and the support necessary for training, as well as assisting in the selection of students and development of curriculum.

Dr. Ronnie B. Martin, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the joint venture is about improving the quality of life for the community.

“The development of this visionary partnership between LUCOM and Centra is really not about a new building, it’s not about a new health care system, it’s not about an affiliation agreement or a contract. … It really all boils down to being about people. It’s about the patients that we’ll take care of, and the students and the health care professionals that will be impacted by what we’re doing here today. It’s really about improving the lives of people, access to health care, quality health care, and preventative health care.”

The agreement also comes as the country poises itself for an estimated shortage of 220,000 physicians by 2030.

“With a physician manpower shortage predicted in this country, and in our region, the new medical school will be of paramount importance in helping ensure that we have a steady pool of physicians who can meet this growing demand,” Tibbs said. “We are fortunate to have a university of this caliber based in Lynchburg.”

LUCOM will become the 30th osteopathic college in the country and the second in the state. The osteopathic medical profession, historically serving in rural and medically underserved settings, places a more prominent emphasis on a holistic, preventative health, patient-centered approach.

Liberty is using innovative methods in developing the new college, including hiring professionals early to develop the curriculum and providing courses in faculty development through Liberty’s Center for Teaching Excellence. They have received provisional accreditation from LUCOM’s programmatic accreditor, AOA-COCA to recruit students and offer curriculum leading to the degree Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.

The future home of LUCOM, the Center for Medical and Health Sciences, is now under construction on Liberty Mountain, overlooking main campus. Liberty broke ground on the new $40 million facility last fall. The 140,000-square-foot, four-story building 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. It will also service the School of Health Sciences, with the new Master of Public Health program and administrative offices scheduled to move there.

The facility is being made possible through $20.5 million in grants from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, with Liberty demonstrating its commitment to place comprehensively trained, service-oriented, and clinically excellent health care professionals into underserved areas of the state.

The building is expected to be completed by Spring 2014.

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