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West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Building Bridges to Medical Education Around the Mountain State

WVSOM’s students help each other with their clinical skills, practicing techniques they will use with patients. The school’s Clinical Evaluation Center (CEC) was the first in West Virginia to be accredited by the Accreditation Council of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. (Photo Provided)

WHEELING — If one looks around the hospitals throughout the state of West Virginia, they’ll find multiple graduates of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in their ranks, WVSOM President James Nemitz said.

The school desires the opportunity to have a statewide impact. It’s why, Nemitz said, the school has built a statewide campus, placing third- and fourth-year students throughout the Mountain State. It’s also why WVSOM has built partnerships with colleges and universities throughout West Virginia.

Nemitz and his staff want undergraduate students at those institutions to feel that a medical school education is within reach. And, starting next year, WVSOM’s curriculum will evolve to create a learning environment that, in school officials’ minds, will become even more mindful of student wellness.

Osteopathic doctors, or D.O.s, have much in common with M.D.s. They are complete physicians licensed to prescribe medicine and perform surgeries in all 50 states. DOs, Nemitz said, take a “whole person” approach to medicine, treating the entire person rather than just the symptoms with a focus on preventive care.

WVSOM is the state’s largest medical school, with an annual enrollment of more than 800 students.

Based in Lewisburg, the school administers a statewide campus concept for its older students, dividing West Virginia into seven regions and placing students in each of those seven.

“As a result, we have developed relationships with every single hospital system in the state, long term relationships that benefit those hospitals as well as benefit WVSOM and our students,” Nemitz said, “because they provide training in a clinical setting for our students in all the specialties. And in return our students are helping with the delivery of medical care while they’re learning — under supervision, of course – and contributing to healthcare in the state.”

WVSOM students are also required to take a rural rotation in their studies, Nemitz said. That’s not difficult to accomplish, as the entirety of West Virginia can be classified as rural. With those rural rotations, Nemitz said, they become familiar with West Virginia’s hospital systems and often enter residency programs in West Virginia, where there’s a much higher probability of them staying to practice medicine there as a fully licensed physician.

“So I see it as a win-win-win for my students, for the hospitals, but most importantly for the patients in West Virginia,” he said.

Rural medicine has been a major component of WVSOM’s mission for a long time. Nemitz spent several days this past week at Oglebay for the West Virginia Rural Health Association’s annual conference. There, Dr. Mark Waddell – a D.O. and associated professor of clinical sciences and global health coordinator for WVSOM – was presented with the WVRHA’s 2023 Outstanding Rural Health Provider Award.

The school’s devotion to West Virginia is seen in its partnerships with higher education institutions in the state. Through its Pre-Osteopathic Medicine Program, students at 14 colleges and universities – 12 in West Virginia, one in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland – students gain the skills and credentials necessary for admission into WVSOM. Those who successfully complete all requirements receive guaranteed acceptance into the school.

“We’re extending sort of an invitation to the students to come and get to know us,” Nemitz said. “So they have a connection. They don’t have to go up and knock on our door. We’re saying the door is open, come on in.”

In doing this, Nemitz added, it prepares students for the marathon that is attending medical school and becoming a doctor.

“Every single student that we accept, we want to see successful as a physician,” he said.

Supporting that success at WVSOM will take on a new form in July 2024 with the implementation of its new “Finding Health” curriculum. The curriculum’s name comes from a quote from Dr. A.T. Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine – “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.”

To that end, Nemitz said, WVSOM wants its students to find health for themselves. So the new curriculum will offer a more realistic schedule with more breaks to help promote students’ mental health. The education itself will not waver, Nemitz said, but a more learner-centered experience, increased student wellness and fostering of independent learning could help cut down on the burnout that so many medical students face.

“My dean, Dr. Linda Boyd says it this way: I can’t make med school easy. It is what it is,” Nemitz said. “But I can make it kinder and gentler. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

“It is a work-driven business,” he added. “But we’re trying to teach physicians that, you know, you need to take care of yourself.”

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