Celebrating its 40th anniversary year, NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) has established itself as one of the nation’s most respected schools of osteopathic medicine.
As Louisa Sethi traverses the country interviewing for pediatric residency programs, she has no trouble selling herself. The fourth-year medical student has packed as many experiences as possible into her education. She completed NYITCOM’s Global Health Certificate program and traveled to Ghana to gain firsthand experience in third-world medicine through fieldwork and research. She also earned a master’s degree in neuromusculoskeletal sciences through NYITCOM’s unique Academic Medicine Scholars program—an additional year of academics, teaching, and research, which Sethi spent studying BRCA1 gene mutations.
Photos show NYITCOM from its inception in 1977 through today.
Sethi (NYITCOM’s 2016 Student D.O. of the Year) is clearly an exemplar, yet she insists she has only taken advantage of all that NYITCOM has to offer. “The school has so many opportunities that have enabled me to pursue my passions and dreams,” she says.
The exceptional medical education Sethi has experienced, along with nearly 7,000-plus other NYITCOM alumni, has been four decades in the making, beginning with efforts in 1976 to bring osteopathic medical education and care to New York state and beyond. Since welcoming its first medical students in 1977, it has grown into a leader in medical education; it is one of the nation’s largest and most competitive osteopathic medical schools, enrolling more than 400 students on two campuses. The school’s alumni have become standouts in specialties including primary care, neurosurgery, neurology, pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, and health policy.
In 1981, just over 30 students earned their D.O.s as part of the college’s inaugural class. In 2016, the graduating class comprised nearly 300 members. Scott Fried (D.O. ’81) was president of the inaugural class. He recalls the message being clear from the start: “The school was totally unproven so we had to be better than students from other places because we would be establishing its reputation,” he says. “It was exciting, but we were also guinea pigs a little bit.”
To be sure, NYITCOM was evolving as the students progressed. That inaugural group attended basic science courses in off-campus classrooms and labs because the NYITCOM campus wasn’t yet ready. The initial anatomy lab was outfitted in an empty barn structure on the Old Westbury campus.
“They were so worried about us being prepared that we didn’t start clinical rotations until March,” recalls Maud Nerman (D.O. ’81) one of nine women in the first class. “The school was in the process of establishing clinical affiliations, and we had to find some of our own rotations.”
“We had to do our own marketing,” adds Jeffrey Goldberg (D.O. ’81). “I remember hearing through back channels that there were places that D.O. students need not apply.” Despite those challenges, or perhaps because of them, the students thrived. “People in the class were very bright and hard-working,” says Nerman, who earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford. “I got offered an internship everywhere I rotated.”
Nerman and Goldberg, who earned his undergraduate degree at Columbia, had both decided to apply only to osteopathic medical schools, which emphasize the importance of diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness within the context of the whole body, as well as the connection of the musculoskeletal system to disease through the use of osteopathic manual manipulation (OMM). At the time, osteopathic medicine was not well understood and sometimes viewed as “lesser” than M.D. programs. Still, that first class of graduates would go on to forge extraordinarily successful careers across a wide range of medical specialties. Nerman, who refers to herself as a “10-fingered osteopath,” is known for her work in manual medicine and expertise in cranial osteopathy. She lives and practices in California. Goldberg, a psychiatrist, is chairman of behavioral health at Coney Island Hospital in New York City, and has served as chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at NYITCOM since 1997. Fried is an orthopedic surgeon in suburban Philadelphia who specializes in hand surgery and is one of only 20 surgeons nationally trained in brachial plexus injury. “I found coming out with an osteopathic education an advantage,” says Fried. “I felt very prepared and much more well-rounded than many of the people I was competing against.”
NYITCOM is now such an established fixture in the tristate medical community and in medical education nationwide that it’s hard to believe how much the institution has grown in only 40 years.
The school’s contribution to medical education has been no less than “transformative,” says current Dean Wolfgang Gilliar, D.O. “We had a mission to provide outstanding physicians to the community. In 40 years, we’ve graduated more than 7,000 doctors; half of them have remained in New York, and half of them provide needed primary care.”
NYITCOM was originally established through the efforts of the American Osteopathic Association and the New York State Osteopathic Medical Society—which wanted to open an osteopathic medical school in New York to increase opportunity for medical students, as well as increase the number of providers in the state. NYIT sought a medical school as part of its campus, an effort supported by prominent New York City-area osteopathic physicians, including W. Kenneth Riland, D.O.
Riland was personal physician to then-New York state Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and had also treated Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Through Riland’s efforts, Gov. Rockefeller and his brother, Laurence, became major supporters of the school.
NYITCOM officially dedicated the Nelson A. Rockefeller Academic Center in 1979 and opened the W. Kenneth Riland Academic Health Care Center in 1983, establishing a robust presence on the Old Westbury campus. In 1999, the campus broke ground on the Serota Academic Center. Over the years, the school has developed widely regarded centers, including the Adele Smithers Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Center, the NYIT Center for Sports Medicine, and a Family Health Care Center in Central Islip, N.Y., that serves the community while training students.
“Our growth was mostly incremental and evolutionary,” says Abraham Jeger, Ph.D., assistant dean for academic outreach and site development, who has been with NYIT since 1977. “We had to develop facilities, we had to be current with curricula and broaden technological innovations, we had to create hospital and clerkship opportunities, and we had to establish intern-ship and residency programs to maximize our students’ opportunities. Without these opportunities, our graduates would have to go out of state to train and practice, and we would not have fulfilled our mission.”
NYITCOM now has clinical affiliations with more than 40 hospitals and ambulatory centers; third- and fourth-year medical students rotate in areas from rural to suburban to the most densely populated urban centers. Gilliar considers the school’s location one of its greatest attributes. “We have access to the most varied care you can think of—the most modern research facilities, as well as outreach to rural and underserved areas,” he says.
Another unique aspect of NYITCOM is the integration of technology in the curricula. It was among the first medical schools to pioneer computer-enhanced learning into medical curriculum. In 1983, Jeger set up NYITCOM’s first microcomputer-learning center and created an eight-hour course for second-year students that included simulations and medical scenarios. “While primitive by today’s standards, it was novel for the time,” he says.
Today’s students receive iPads when they arrive on campus. All classes are video recorded, streamed live, and are available for later access. Students also hone their interprofessional skills at NYITCOM’s Institute for Clinical Competence, a suite of virtual patient exam rooms and simulation labs. “We have a totally different technology learning environment than many schools,” says Jerry Balentine, D.O., NYIT vice president for medical affairs and global health. “There’s been little hesitation about implementing technology into the educational programs.”
In August, NYITCOM welcomed its first 115 medical students to its new site at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
In 2013, Arkansas State reached out to NYITCOM about bringing its medical program to the state, which only had one medical school and ranks 49th out of 50 states in population health status and 48th in percentage of active physicians per 100,000 people. “We’ve distinguished ourselves in producing primary care physicians who stay and practice in the areas they train,” says Gilliar. “They wanted us to help do the same there.”
“The unique public-private partnership between NYITCOM and Arkansas State provided for the rapid infrastructure needed to get going relatively quickly,” says Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., vice president for health sciences and medical affairs at NYIT since 2001 and the first site dean of the Jonesboro campus.
Forty-eight percent of students at the new campus are from Arkansas and more than 90 percent hail from the Delta region. “Our motto is to educate physicians in Arkansas to stay and serve Arkansas and the Delta region,” says Ross-Lee. The Jonesboro campus is accredited as an additional site of NYITCOM. The two sites use the same curriculum with faculty members in both locations providing synchronous teaching to students, some from Jonesboro and some from Old Westbury.
As it did in New York 40 years ago, NYITCOM has been working to affiliate with medical institutions around the state to establish clinical rotations and residency programs for students. According to Ross-Lee, more than 200 new residency slots have been created thus far, with another 200-plus in progress.
Balentine sees the additional campus as a great step forward for NYITCOM, both for educating students as well as improving public health. While major medical issues are much the same across the country, the social issues that impact health can be very different. “In New York, there’s a high density of physicians but people may not have access because of lack of insurance, while in Arkansas there’s a real shortage of practitioners, so people may have to travel a long distance and not have money to fill their gas tank,” he says. “Combining faculty and medical students in one of the most populated urban areas in the United States with one of the most rural broadens perspectives for all of us.”
Over the past four decades, NYITCOM has stayed remarkably true to its core mission to train medical professionals for its home region and to further the osteopathic profession. There were only a few hundred D.O.s in New York state in 1977; now there are more than 5,000, the majority of them NYITCOM graduates. NYITCOM hopes to see the same kind of impact across the Delta region.
Although its leaders are clearly proud of the college’s ever-rising popularity and competitiveness—more than 9,000 students applied for 420 spots this year and those admitted had credentials equal to M.D. schools across the country—the greatest point of pride is undoubtedly the school’s alumni.
“Certainly what’s most notable about the school is our product,” says Ross-Lee. “Our alumni have been very productive and visible in the communities where they work.” Adds Balentine, “This is a powerful group that can work with us to provide guidance and leader-ship and opportunities for our students. That’s what will continue to propel us forward.”
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2017 issue of NYIT Magazine
By Renee Gearhart Levy