The chairman and president of both the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, or VCOM, and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, or ARTF, signed an agreement establishing a branch campus and collaboration on biomedical research and healthcare projects. VCOM will build a new facility featuring classrooms, small-group learning rooms, laboratories and a technology center. The first class of 150 students is proposed for fall 2015.
“Our goals for a new branch campus are to provide state-of-the-art medical education and research and train students to practice medicine in areas with the most need,” said VCOM Chairman John Rocovich.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reports 60 of Alabama’s 67 counties do not have enough primary care providers, such as general practitioners, family doctors or pediatricians, and that rural parts of the state are the most medically underserved. Alabama ranks 43rd out of 50 states in the U.S. for physicians per 100,000 population, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“We’re excited to welcome the college to the Auburn Research Park,” said Jimmy Sanford, chair of ARTF. “VCOM is a well-respected institution that will provide opportunities for students to receive a medical education, support economic development and open the door for more health science advancements by Auburn University faculty.”
The Auburn Research Park is operated by ARTF as a partnership among the state of Alabama, Auburn University and the city of Auburn.
VCOM was established in 2003 as a private, nonprofit college affiliated with Virginia Tech University. In 2011, it opened a campus near Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., a state also with a shortage of primary care physicians.
The campus in Auburn will be VCOM’s third. In addition to serving as a pipeline of primary care physicians for rural and medically underserved areas, VCOM supports programs that result in a large number of graduates commissioned as officers to serve in the U.S. military and to work in Veterans Administration hospitals around the country.
VCOM will cover costs for construction and operation of the Auburn branch. In addition to the VCOM campus, the faculty will have access to Auburn facilities such as the MRI Research Center that houses a 7 Tesla, or 7T, research scanner, which is one of fewer than 35 in the world, and a 3T scanner, the most powerful certified for clinical use. They will have opportunities to collaborate with Auburn scientists and researchers in pharmacy, nursing, veterinary medicine, rural medicine, kinesiology, chemistry, biochemistry and other health-related fields. Students will also have access to university facilities and activities.
“Our collaboration with Auburn and other universities is important because of their outstanding commitment to science, research and education,” said Rocovich. “Having opened two other campuses, VCOM brings with it the experience to build and operate a successful medical school.”
There are 26 colleges of osteopathic medicine and four branch campuses in the U.S. that produce approximately 4,600 graduates each year. Some are affiliated with universities, such as Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Oklahoma State.
Graduates earn the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or D.O., degree rather than the Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D. The basic curriculum for both degrees is essentially the same, however osteopathic medicine focuses more on a whole patient approach through therapeutic techniques, emphasizes the prevention of illness through healthier lifestyles and adds osteopathic manipulation to standard medical care. Osteopathic manipulation involves hands-on techniques to alleviate pain and restore function associated with muscle and skeletal injuries.
“We’re pleased to have the chance to work with VCOM and other universities to advance healthcare in Alabama and the Southeast,” said Auburn University President Jay Gogue.