story by Taylor Wheeler | photos submitted by ACOM
It was a historic day for Dothan and the Wiregrass as the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) graduated its inaugural class at the Dothan Civic Center on May 13. For the class of 2017, the graduation ceremony was the culmination of a successful four-year journey that actually began before the college itself was even completed. “When this class applied,” says Craig J. Lenz, DO, dean and senior vice president of ACOM, “we had not yet started on the curriculum and there was no finished building.” It was a leap of faith that paid off for the 2017 graduates, as it ultimately landed them in the honored position of the very first doctors of osteopathic medicine trained in Dothan, Alabama.
Before that landing, however, there was quite a bit of studying to do . “The first two years they spend with us on campus,” says Dr. Lenz, “where we prepare students to be clinically functional with a mix of classroom and clinical simulations.” The students begin by learning the foundations of medicine, studying subjects like anatomy and medical biochemistry. Next, “we take it system by system,” says Dr. Lenz, using a systems approach to study the major organ systems of the body one by one. Students learn in the lecture hall but also in high-tech patient simulators and by patient encounters with professional healthcare “actors” and educators—training which provides them with critical patient diagnosis skills. (In fact, students receive such detailed training in simulators that an ACOM student team competing in a national simulator competition came in first place and will represent the USA in Paris, France, this summer in what is essentially the “Doctor Patient Simulator Olympics,” according to Dr. Lenz.)
ACOM students spend their second and third years on clinical rotations at facilities across the state with the first half of clinical rotations in required four week programs like internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN and family medicine. The second half of clinical rotations are comprised of elective disciplines.
Over 1,500 were in attendance to witness the historic first graduation ceremony, with many family and friends eager to see their loved ones receive their doctorate. The ceremony began with the Macebearer, wielding the college’s mace, leading in the presiding officials, dean’s cabinet and faculty. Then followed the 130 students wearing graduation gowns faced with velvet panels and tams, a soft velvet cap which is the traditional headwear of doctoral graduates. After a commencement address by Dr. Karen J. Nichols from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, ACOM conferred degrees on the graduates and bestowed them with the dark green hood representing the field of medicine. Graduates were then hooded by a chosen faculty member or close friend or relative who themselves hold a doctorate. After the new DOs took the Osteopathic Oath (and a class picture), the ACOM Class of 2017 celebrated their achievement with a collective Throwing of the Tams.
High honors were presented during the graduation ceremony with honorary doctorates of osteopathic medicine awarded to the late William E. Glover, founding chairman of the ACOM board of directors, and to Ronald S. Owen, founding President of ACOM. Emeritus status was awarded to Dr. Vance Daly Powell, Jr., ACOM’s founding chair of OB/GYN and Surgery. A separate awards ceremony for the students was held the day before graduation with a total of 16 different awards presented, including valedictorian, salutatorian and student of the year. Students were also recognized for exemplified excellence in coursework and related academic performance. Several students were also commissioned as officers into the Air Force, Army and Navy prior to graduation.
The next step for the new DOs will be residencies in their chosen field of medicine. ACOM students achieved residencies in 15 disciplines in 29 different states. One hundred percent of eligible ACOM graduates were successfully placed in a residency—an impressive statistic. (UAB’s percentage is 98 percent.) ACOM’s success is attributed to the intensive guidance and support the ACOM faculty gives to each student. “Our academic support process expects all faculty to identify students who are struggling and work with them right away,” says Dr. Lenz. They also provide students with counseling during the residency application process. On Match Day in March of this year, 86 percent of students were matched with a residency. The college then successfully assisted those who had to scramble (i.e., those who did not immediately match) in finding a match by having their dossiers compiled and immediately sent to hospitals with open positions still available. Sixty-nine percent of the residency placements were in the primary care disciplines.
Dr. Lenz has great admiration for ACOM’s inaugural graduating class whose dedication and commitment to ACOM began even before day one. “They trusted us to come through with the quality we promised them,” he says. “We are proud of them and we hope that they are proud of us.”