Mountaintop Experience

By Mitzi Bible, October 22, 2014

Liberty's Center for Medical & Health Sciences.Liberty University’s inaugural class of medical students had the unique opportunity to hear from Liberty’s first female graduate to attend medical school, during the dedication of the Center for Medical and Health Sciences on Aug. 22.

Dr. Jeannie F. Rivers, M.D., graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Liberty in 1986 and attended Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Now she is chief of surgery at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va., having joined only a handful of women in the country to hold that leadership position.

As she addressed the 162-member class of the new Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM), she said she, too, had early dreams of becoming a doctor. A fascination with the intricacies of the human body led her into the medical field, and her compassion to see the hurting get healed has kept her there.

As the daughter of Jerry Falwell, Sr., founder and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church,  Rivers said she has often been asked why she didn’t “go into the ministry” too.

“I tell them medicine IS a ministry. I did go into the ministry,” she said.

Working in the medical field is directly in line with her faith, Rivers said. In her dedication speech, she encouraged students to live out their faith, becoming “more than just a doctor who treats a disease, but one who treats the patient.”

With that statement, Rivers encapsulated the reason Liberty’s administration worked so hard for nine years to research and plan a medical school, putting hands and feet to its mission of Training Champions for Christ who are sensitive to the needs of others and committed to social responsibility.
Medical students train in Liberty's advanced facilities.

The project started to take shape three years ago when the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission pledged a $20.5 million matching grant to fund construction of a medical school facility, with the goal of expanding quality health care access throughout regions of the state that have historically been supported by the tobacco, coal, and textile industries.

Ground was broken one year later on land in Campbell County at the southern edge of Liberty Mountain. Overlooking Liberty’s main campus below and with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, the four-story, 144,000-square-foot building certainly boasts one of the best views of any medical school in the country.

The facility features two auditoriums, 16 small group study classrooms, 12 conference rooms, a 7,500-square-foot medical library and learning resource center, and 15,000 square feet dedicated to its anatomy, clinical medicine, and osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) laboratories. Each lab is built to accommodate live, broadcast-ready video feeds and 3D video content for students to interact with on the floor.

The Center for Medical and Health Sciences is also home to the Master of Public Health program under the School of Health Sciences. The program has about 90 students studying on campus and more than 900 studying online.

Liberty received the Tobacco Commission grant, one of the largest investments in the commission’s history, partly due to LUCOM’s commitment to directly impact those areas of Virginia where the economy has suffered since the decline of the tobacco, textile, and coal industries over the past two decades. About 67 percent of the patients in Southside Virginia live in medically underserved areas, and training quality physicians who can serve those areas is a primary goal of LUCOM. The nation as a whole will be facing a shortage of up to 220,000 physicians by 2030.

Del. Kathy Byron, a longtime member of the Virginia House of Delegates and a member of the Tobacco Commission, addressed the crowd at the dedication. She was joined at the event by fellow commission members Del. Terry Kilgore, chairman, and Sen. Frank Ruff, vice chairman.

“The commission participated in this project because the respective visions of the college and the commission are so closely aligned,” Byron said. “The College of Osteopathic Medicine presented the rare opportunity to fulfill the needs of our region. … Liberty sees a need and responds to it — that is the missionary spirit at work, benefiting our region by enhancing our quality of life by positively affecting people near and far.”

A tradition of healing

LUCOM presents an official drawing of the Center for Medical and Health Sciences to the members of the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

LUCOM presents an official drawing of the Center for Medical and Health Sciences to the members of the Virginia Tobacco Commission. From left to right: LUCOM Dean Ronnie B. Martin, D.O.; Del. Kathy Byron; Del. Terry Kilgore; Del. Frank Ruff; Tom Pfhol, Interim Exec. Director; President Falwell.

During the dedication ceremony,  Ronnie  B. Martin, D.O., FACOFP-dist, dean of LUCOM, said that even though the new building is fully equipped with advanced technology to train the next generation of physicians, it will not happen without the perseverance of many people.

“This magnificent structure behind me, alone, will not improve public health, expand access to health care, or promote wellness,” Martin said. “Its strength and its stability will not be measured by the tensile strength of concrete and steel, but rather by the commitment of the hearts, the minds, and the hands of those here today and those that will follow.”

LUCOM’s 52 full-time faculty and staff are ensuring that the rich tradition of osteopathic medicine continues for future generations.

LUCOM is now the 30th college of osteopathic medicine in the nation and the second in Virginia. Doors opened for classes on Aug. 4.

Martin reminded students and staff that the heritage being passed down to them is unique. For more than 130 years, osteopathic medicine has advocated for the body’s inherent ability to heal itself. The profession embraces a philosophy of caring for the body, mind, and spirit, which aligns well with the university’s mission.

Upon completing the four-year program at LUCOM, students will graduate with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. A licensed D.O. has the same unlimited practice rights nationwide as a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.).

Osteopathic physicians are practicing in every discipline of medicine today and have become major contributors to the health and welfare of patients across the globe.

About one in every four medical students is pursuing a D.O. degree, making the profession one of the fastest growing vocations in the health care field.
LUCOM received provisional accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (AOA-COCA) in August 2013 and will become eligible for full accreditation in early 2018, just in time for its first graduating class. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Liberty’s accrediting agency, also recently recognized the university’s capacity to develop a D.O. degree program.

Liberty’s medical school has partnered with a number of local and regional hospitals and community health care centers to provide residencies for students, including Centra Health, Halifax Health, Johnson Health, and Lifepoint Medical.

Meet the first class

Liberty welcomes its first class of medical students.LUCOM officially recognized its first class of student doctors at the inaugural White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 2. Students were coated by a faculty member and given three pins: one bearing LUCOM’s seal; one from the Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association (VOMA) recognizing them as members; and the third from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The class then recited the Osteopathic Oath, pledging to uphold the principles of the profession.

The ceremony, instituted in 1993 by the Gold Foundation and celebrated at almost all medical schools in the United States, as well as in 13 other countries, is designed to impress upon the students and the public the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

LUCOM’s inaugural class represents 30 universities and 25 states (31 students are from Virginia). It is almost equally split between male and female, and the average age is 25. Nineteen student doctors received their undergraduate degrees at Liberty.

Out of 3,500 applications reviewed, nearly 500 prospective students were interviewed. Admissions staff then identified those who would best advance the mission and vision of the medical school and the university.

More than 50 percent of the applicants who were offered admission decided to come to Liberty, higher than the typical 30-40 percent for a first-year medical school.
Students from LUCOM's first class enjoy the new facility.

Martin said the results show that Liberty’s medical school was the top choice for a large majority of the inaugural class, many of whom had the credentials and experience to choose from a variety of quality institutions.

“The fact that more than 50 percent chose Liberty is a blessing and shows the high regard that people across the country have for the university,” Martin said. “We are honored that they have placed their faith and futures with us here at Liberty. It is both an obligation and an opportunity that we take seriously.”

Student doctor Arif Haseez feels honored to be a part of this milestone in Liberty’s history.

“The building is beautiful. We have state-of-the art equipment to teach us, and the teachers were handpicked from very prestigious universities. I feel really blessed to be here and to be using all of this,” he said. The first class has quickly become like family, he added, “it’s the camaraderie and togetherness that I’m enjoying the most.”

As a former EMT, Haseez said he hopes to work in an emergency room when he graduates. “Like Dr. Martin has said, this program is meant for those who want to serve in underserved areas. I completely enjoy helping people who really need it.”

World-class in every way

LUCOM students learn from a professor in a top-notch facility.At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center for Medical and Health Sciences two years ago, President Jerry Falwell called the medical school “the last piece of the puzzle” in his father’s original vision for a world-class Christian university.

With full accreditation expected in 2018, Liberty will join the ranks of less than 10 institutions of higher learning in the nation that provide not only an AOA-COCA-accredited medical school, but also an ABA-accredited law school, an ABET-accredited engineering and computational sciences program, and an FAA-certified aviation program.

Liberty has opened a world of opportunity for students who are seeking to enter these high-demand careers while living a life of Christian service at the same time.

Martin is confident that Liberty’s future physicians will greatly impact the health care industry and the communities where they serve.

“We will have the opportunity to witness the fruits of our efforts in advancing the skills, knowledge, and practice of the professionals we will train in this building,” he said. “The result will be improvements in the health systems of our country, the health and wellness of our fellow man, the advancement of medical knowledge, the quality of life in our community, and the individual lives of thousands, if not millions, of patients that will be touched by our graduates.”

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