BUIES CREEK The shelves of the anatomy lab were still being stocked with supplies as students from the inaugural class of Campbell University’s new medical school attended their orientation this week.
Classes begin Monday at Campbell’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, North Carolina’s first new medical school in 36 years, behind East Carolina University. The school, with 162 students and 48 faculty in its inaugural year, was founded with a unique mission: educating mostly primary care providers who will train in rural and community hospitals and work in medically underserved areas, particularly in North Carolina.
After four years, the school will enroll approximately 600 students, making Campbell the state’s second-largest medical school, behind UNC Chapel Hill and ahead of Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina universities.
Buies Creek, a Harnett County town about 30 miles south of Raleigh, has a population of nearly 3,000, making it the most rural location for a medical school in the state.
The medical school is the latest in a series of professional schools and programs at the private Baptist university, most launched under the late Norman Wiggins, who became the third president of Campbell in 1967.
Campbell’s law school, founded in 1976 and now in Raleigh, bears Wiggins’ name, while the education school (1985), the business school (1983), the pharmacy school (1986) and the divinity school (1996) bear his legacy.
President Jerry Wallace is seeking accreditation for a physician assistant’s school, which would be housed in the same building as the medical school.
Campbell, which became a four-year college in 1961, has an enrollment of about 6,200 students, including 1,800 graduate and professional school students.
Though he knew he was taking a risk attending an untested medical school, Kyle Levitt of Oxford said it was the medical missions attitude of the university that attracted him.
“At the beginning, Campbell still had a lot of pieces they were figuring out,” said Levitt, 26. “But I knew that a rewarding career would have primary care at the center of it, which Campbell made a focus.”
Levitt said he plans to train in the United States but eventually work training doctors overseas and helping them establish clinics.
“I have a strong desire to work overseas and, as a private faith-based school, Campbell has a strong focus on medical missions,” Levitt said.
A first for North Carolina
Campbell’s medical school is the first in North Carolina to train doctors in osteopathic medicine, a discipline equivalent to the allopathic medicine taught at the state’s other medical schools but more likely to attract doctors who practice primary medicine, rather than pursue specialties.
In North Carolina, less than 10 percent of medical school graduates enter primary medicine, according to the N.C. Institute of Medicine, a health policy group.
In a 2007 report, the institute predicted a shortage of doctors in North Carolina over the next 20 years, as the population grows and ages and doctors retire, and as the new health care law increases the number of people with insurance.
“We welcome Campbell’s program,” said Brian Harris, CEO of Rural Health Group, a nonprofit health center that recruits and trains primary care providers for underserved areas in eastern North Carolina.
“We are running into a problem with providers who are retiring, and we have no one to replace them,” Harris said. “Younger physicians are not choosing primary care, and they are not choosing to practice in rural areas.”
Osteopathic physicians complete a similar curriculum and adhere to the same practicing standards as traditional MDs. DOs, as they are called, can prescribe drugs, perform surgeries and practice medicine anywhere in the U.S.
“If you were having surgery you would not notice the difference,” said Dr. John M. Kauffman Jr., founding dean of the new college. “You’ll see the difference more in the family practitioner’s office. Our philosophy is more holistic. We look at the whole person, mind, body, and spirit. And we receive additional training in the musculoskeletal system.”
The more personal approach of osteopathic physicians is what attracts students to the field, said incoming student Minhncan Truong of Wichita, Kan.
“In primary care you can see people up close and spot the problems early on,” said Truong, 22. “You are in a strong position to fix a problem before it gets worse.”
Truong says she plans to enter into primary care and possibly train as a general surgeon.
“I am a person who wants to jump into places I’ve never been,” she said. “Coming from a city life and jumping into a rural setting, I think, will make me a better physician.”
The charter class
Of the more than 3,800 applicants to Campbell’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, 477 applicants were interviewed and 162 selected.
In 2011, Kauffman said it was part of the school’s “strategic plan” to recruit students from North Carolina, especially rural areas where the school hopes they will return to practice medicine.
In the charter class, 43 students, or 27 percent, come from North Carolina, and 32 students, or 20 percent, hail from rural areas. It is not clear how many students are in both categories.
“The greatest predictor of practicing in a rural area is a rural birth,” Kauffman said. “We think North Carolina students are more likely to stay in the state and help fulfill our mission of working in rural and underserved areas of the state.”
Kauffman said he hopes the price of tuition at the private medical school will not dissuade students from rural areas from applying. Tuition and fees at privately funded Campbell cost $42,000 this year.
By contrast, tuition and fees for in-state medical students at UNC-CH come to about $18,000 a year and about $13,000 a year at ECU.
Wake Forest’s medical school tuition and fees cost $49,000, and Duke’s cost $55,000. Out-of-state students at UNC-CH’s medical school pay $44,000 annually.
Campbell gave out 40 merit-based scholarships to students in its charter class and is planning additional scholarships in the future, Kauffman said.
Hospitals as classrooms
Though founding a medical school is a huge task, Campbell’s effort did not require building a new health care facility, patient clinics or research laboratories. There is no hospital affixed to the school nor did Campbell make massive new investments in basic scientific research.
Students will spend their first two years studying the clinical sciences in classrooms, mock doctors’ offices and laboratories in the Leon Levine Medical Sciences Center, a 96,500-square-foot facility completed this summer to house the new medical school and its faculty and administrative offices.
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