D.O. done right

Posted on August 5, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

This morning, the inaugural class of the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University held its first White Coat Ceremony in Jonesboro.

The celebratory ritual marked more than just a rite-of-passage student transition from pre-clinical study to clinical health sciences. It also highlighted the first Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) medical school in the state, born of a unique private-public partnership that not only saved as much as $50 million in development costs, but also launched the school without additional tax-fund requirements.

Most importantly, the NYIT and A-State joint venture creates a crux at which health education investment aligns directly with an area of great medical needs. The counties bordering the Mississippi River in Northeast Arkansas have some of the highest incidences of chronic illness in the state—and their population is woefully underserved by doctors.

On Monday I got a chance to tour the new D.O. school, which is housed in the spectacularly renovated and updated Wilson Hall on the A-State campus.

The juxtaposition is just amazing: the circa-1932 stately facade and original art deco architecture, sporting an ultra-advanced, state-of-the-art interior that looks like the sick bay in Star Trek‘s Enterprise starship. It splendidly marries past and future, legacy and modernity.

Interior walls were removed, and the electrical and forced-air systems reworked, to transform traditional classroom spaces into specialized simulation emergency and operating rooms, clinical learning rooms, an anatomy lab and much more.

The training of M.D. and D.O. students is essentially the same, but the osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) lab highlights the additional principles and practices taught in D.O. schools, which regard the body as an interrelated, dynamic unit of function and structure with an innate healing ability.

The OMM lab is visually stunning when empty; in a few days it will be teeming with enthusiastic physicians-in-training who will transform the region’s health-care landscape much like their school has transformed Wilson Hall.

It’s fitting that the first new medical school in the state in over a century, unveiled in an historic university landmark, is also among the most technologically advanced. Every student is issued a souped-up iPad on which lectures, textbooks and myriad other class and study information is housed. In lounges, break rooms and study areas all over the school, large HD televisions are embedded with Apple TV connectivity and “airplay” so students can wirelessly congregate and collaborate.

The classrooms are marvels of modern advancements, with touchscreens driving large TV monitors that can display incredibly detailed anatomical data in the highest-definition resolution.

I fondly remember watching plays in the old Wilson auditorium, with its theater-red velvet seating. In its place now is an expansive lecture hall, laid out with sleek workspace tables facing an enormous screen (not as big as those seen at the recent political conventions, but close) onto which live links with instructors in New York can be streamed real-time.

The basement section where students used to eat and gather near the jukebox in the old Wigwam is now a gleaming, uber-connected example of innovative renovation. It’s a second lecture hall, sizable enough to accommodate all the students in an entire medical class, which will be a necessity when the next wave of students enrolls in 2017. Thanks to strategic HDTV placements, every seat has a great view even though structural support columns had to remain in place.

The debut D.O. class is a full-slate 120 students, with a waiting list of 150 more. Even more notably, half of those students hail from Arkansas. And osteopathic school statistics are definitive: students from non-urban areas who attend medical schools nearby tend to stay and practice in the same areas.

Digital connectivity is the enabler of remote learning, and walking through the new D.O. school and hearing about the cascading tiers of connection, it became clear this is a seminal education event. Major telecom providers collaborated to provide a direct fiber-optic line to link the Jonesboro and New York campuses, and the latest wireless and touchscreen integrated technology connects students with classrooms, lessons, training and textbook data.

A couple of decades ago, all this would have been little more than a wishful dream. The fact that it’s now a highly functional reality—that rural Arkansas medical students are hard-wired to Manhattan physician-professors in a full-service post-graduate program—indicates the potential to also transform rural K-12 public education.

A couple of decades from now (maybe sooner), schools in small towns could be using the same digital connectivity to link to urban campuses, and sharing specialty teachers and courses instead of having to expensively replicate them for smaller student populations.

State investments in education could be spread further among all districts, creating more access to better curricula while also preserving small schools—and their towns.

Imagine harnessing the most ardent education advocates in each small community behind a new, innovative vision of learning technology that erases geographic isolation as a barrier.

Vision, teamwork and community built the fabulous new D.O. school in Jonesboro. The same ingredients can also build a fantastic rural education system in Arkansas.

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