William Carey University in Hattiesburg opened its College of Osteopathic Medicine (WCU-COM) in fall 2010, and interest in Mississippi’s second medical school is growing.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson produces more than 100 doctors annually. WCU-COM will soon be doing the same — only their graduates will be DOs, or doctors of osteopathic medicine.
Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, Darrell E. Lovins, said the William Carey program “is progressing well. Interest in the school is high. There were 1,064 and 1,724 applicants in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 cycles respectively. To date there have been 1,857 applicants for the next class.”
William Carey opened its College of Osteopathic Medicine to address the shortage of primary care physicians in Mississippi and to impact the health care in rural, underserved areas.
In 2009, the WCU-COM was awarded provisional accreditation by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. Its inaugural class will begin clinical rotations this August.
What is osteopathic medicine?
Osteopathic physicians should not be confused with osteologists, who are experts in the study of bones, or osteology.
Doctors of osteopathy (DOs) practice a “whole person” approach to medicine and focus special attention on the musculoskeletal system. Like doctors of medicine (MDs), they are fully licensed medical professionals who may specialize in family medicine, surgery and other disciplines.
“In the United States only two degrees lead to full, unrestricted licensure to practice all aspects, disciplines, and specialties of medicine and surgery. The degrees are the DO degree and the MD degree. DOs and MDs receive four years of medical school training and then pursue specialty training upon graduation. While in medical school DOs are trained to look at the patient in a holistic fashion, which includes extra classes on the musculoskeletal system (both in diagnosis and treatment) and its relationship to a person’s health and well-being,” Lovins said.
Lovins himself is a graduate of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri, was initially hired by William Carey in 2008 to serve as the school’s associate dean of clinical sciences.
“DOs serve in the armed forces and have risen to the rank of lieutenant general and rear admiral. DOs have cared for presidents and members of Congress, but are really noted for their service in the primary care specialties and in rural America,” Lovins said.
Approximately 60 percent of practicing osteopathic physicians practice in the primary care specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
As explained by Dr. Clarke Millette, professor of anatomy at WCU-COM, “What osteopathy adds is an extra element. Osteopathy students get additional course work.” Millette taught at schools producing MDs for more than 30 years before coming to Hattiesburg to help start the William Carey program. He served as an assistant and associate professor at Harvard Medical School for 12 years and as a tenured professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
Some of that additional coursework is in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), which involves moving muscles and joints using techniques like stretching, gentle pressure and resistance. The American Osteopathic Association says, “When appropriate, OMT can complement, and even replace, drugs or surgery. In this way, OMT brings an important dimension to standard medical care.”
Millette said some people may say osteopathic physicians are like chiropractors, but chiropractors have actually stolen techniques from DOs. “Thinking of an osteopathic physician as a glorified chiropractor is absolutely fallacious … DOs focus on getting to know entire patient and try to treat the patient and not the symptom.”
Osteopathy emphasizes the connection between mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Other osteopathic philosophical tenets are that the body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms and has the inherent capacity to heal itself. Additionally, course work stresses that structure and function are reciprocally inter-related.
Currently, there are 500,000 MDs in the United States and only 70,000 DOs, but that dynamic is changing. Today, nearly one in five medical students is in a DO school.
In U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 ranking of medical schools producing the most primary care physicians, the top five were all centers of osteopathic medicine.
Economic impact to Mississippi
According to a study from the Area Development Partnership, William Carey University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine will substantially impact the economics of the Hattiesburg Metropolitan Statistical Area during the facility’s start-up phase and throughout its full enrollment and staffing levels. When William Carey’s osteopathic medicine program reaches its full enrollment of 400 students in the 2013-2014 academic year, the facility’s operational dollars will have an annual impact of $4.5 million.
Each WCU-COM student are expected to spend $22,000 in the local economy annually, accounting for $6.6 million in housing and retail sales by the 2013-2014 academic year. This consumer spending level should generate an additional $3.6 million annually to the local economy, the study said.
Additionally, Lovins said representatives from WCU-COM are participating in the Blueprint Mississippi Health Care: An Economic Driver initiative sponsored by Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Economic Development Council.
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