Anticipation builds as Campbell’s medical facility nears completion

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 08:09 PM

North Carolina’s first new medical school in 35 years is opening in about three weeks in Buies Creek.

When students start classes on Aug. 5, the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine will be the state’s only osteopathic medical school, as well as the first medical school of any sort to be built in North Carolina since the mid-70s, when East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine began.

Campbell’s focus, osteopathic medicine, is often employed by primary care physicians. Osteopathic doctors are trained in preventative care and in treating patients as a whole instead of specializing in specific ailments or body parts.

Medical experts like those at the N.C. Institute of Medicine have predicted an upcoming shortage of primary care doctors — especially in rural areas — but Campbell will hopefully train many new rural and primary care doctors, said Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Dr. Brian Kessler.Kessler hosted representatives of Central Carolina Community College, the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce and FirstHealth of the Carolinas on Tuesday morning, giving them a tour of the facilities and answering questions about everything from curriculum to student life and the school’s expected economic impact.

“We’re really blessed with this community growing,” Kessler said, mentioning the recent construction of a Lillington branch of Harnett Health, CCCC’s Lillington campus — which offers medical programs in both the administrative and treatment aspects of the trade — and the number of smaller family practices in the area that could offer good residency options.

The 85,000 square-foot medical school, which is still under construction, houses classrooms, a cafe, library and study space, state-of-the-art labs and conference rooms and even a small chapel. Campbell is a Southern Baptist school, and spirituality is a key tenet of good osteopathic care, said Dr. William Morris, chair of the school’s Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine department, which teaches hands-on care of the musculoskeletal system.

Morris said the 162 incoming students will practice on one another, and Kessler later added that the school is also planning to open a student-run community clinic.

“The experience of being treated by an osteopathic physician can give you far more information than all the hot air I can manage,” Morris said before launching into a historical and philosophical primer on the subject. “... It’s about body, mind and spirit, which is what I like about osteopathic medicine.”

The school is also looking for people to come in and act as if they have a variety of ailments, Kessler said. There are mannequins that can realistically simulate childbirth, anesthesia reactions and other high-stakes situations, but he said that for non-surgical procedures, a real person pretending to be sick is still the best option. People who want more information about volunteering can call (910) 893-1776.

The school will also form several teaching partnerships, including with Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford and Harnett Health System. In addition to training doctors, there will also be pharmaceutical and physician’s assistant students on campus, which Kessler said will help all three groups learn more about other medical professions.

With students and some staff moving to the area, Kessler also said there will be growth due to — and well beyond — the 100 jobs directly created by the school.

“As part of our accreditation process, we had an N.C. State economist do an analysis,” Kessler said. “In the next years, he predicted there will be about a $300 million economic impact.”

But boosting the economy is only a secondary benefit, Kessler said, with the first being the influx of osteopathic doctors. The state’s only two public medical schools, at UNC-Chapel Hill and ECU, were supposed to launch satellite campuses to train primary care doctors in rural areas several years ago. But those slowed down or stopped almost immediately since the General Assembly cut off funding after the recession hit.

The state’s growing, aging population is reportedly to blame for the expected shortage of primary care physicians. So is the trend of many young doctors going into higher-paying specialty fields, which some observers have said is due in part to high educational costs. Campbell is no exception: The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine said the school’s tuition and fees were more than $40,000 — similar to the state’s other private medical schools at Duke and Wake Forest universities — and it suggests students budget an additional $26,000 per year for room, board, textbooks and other expenses.

But by starting a medical school focused on primary care in a rural area — Kessler said many young doctors stay near where they do their residencies — Campbell could help fill the needs of the state and some of its under-served and soon-to-be under-served communities.

“Our mission is to really change this area, and to improve North Carolina,” Kessler said.