VCOM—Spartanburg’s Medical School with a Distinct Mission

    VCOM—Spartanburg’s Medical School with a Distinct Mission

    Tim Kowalski, DO, D.FACN, Vice Provost for Professional and Public Affairs and Founding Dean of the VCOM-Carolinas Campus

    by Tim Kowalski, Vice Provost for Professional and Public Affairs and Founding Dean of the VCOM-Carolinas Campus, with Sharon Purvis

    The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), located in Spartanburg, is “to prepare globally-minded, community-focused physicians to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved populations and promote research to improve human health.” We asked VCOM’s founding dean, Tim Kowalski, to talk about how the school fulfills that mission here in the Upstate and what sets it apart from other medical schools.

    Q: VCOM, with its four campuses (at Virginia Tech, Auburn University, University of Louisiana–Monroe, and in Spartanburg), is one of the largest medical schools in the country in terms of enrollment. Can you talk about what sets VCOM apart from other medical schools?

    VCOM offers the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (DO), a degree historically established in 1892 to differentiate its training and philosophic approach to the practice of medicine from that offered within allopathic medical schools offering the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree at the time. The osteopathic approach offered drugless musculoskeletal manipulative therapy to enhance the body’s inherent capacity to heal from within, in lieu of the then standard-of-care, which employed unresearched “best practice” treatments like poisonous drugs (such as mercury), blistering, and bloodletting. Osteopathic treatment, developed by A.T. Still, MD, was a disruptive approach to the practice of medicine that was met with significant resistance.

    At the end of the 19th century, infectious diseases claimed the lives of many patients, but the development of antibiotics, other evidenced-based pharmaceutical treatments, and improvements in surgery has led to increased life expectancy and quality of life. While maintaining its distinctive philosophical approach in educating physicians, osteopathic medicine has embraced all evidence-based treatments available today. Osteopathic physicians are fully licensed in all 50 states and are board certified in all specialties and subspecialties from family medicine to surgical specialties.

    VCOM’s successful mission to produce primary care physicians for underserved communities has been recognized by the US News and World Report —it is currently ranked 8th place among U.S. medical schools whose graduates enter primary care residencies. Boasting a 3-year rolling average of 63% of graduates entering family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics, VCOM has averaged a top ten placement in the USNWR rankings for the last 10 years

    Q: The VCOM campus in Spartanburg is strategically placed, anchoring the Northside Initiative. How does that support your mission?

    Partnering with the City of Spartanburg, the Spartanburg Regional Health System, and Wofford College, VCOM chose to build what now has become its 25-acre campus in the once blighted northside neighborhood of Spartanburg. As a private not-for-profit medical school, VCOM broke ground in February 2010 on the site of the old Spartan Mills property, whose iconic smokestack stands sentinel to VCOM’s nearly 1000 graduates as of this past May. VCOM is proud to have been the catalyst to and a founding member of what has become the Northside Development Group (NDG).

    Working strategically with northside residents, the NDG has developed mixed housing, the Monarch Café and Farmers Market, the Franklin School for early child development, and the TK Gregg Community Center with indoor pool. Moreover, construction of additional mixed-use retail/housing and clinic are nearing completion across the street from VCOM.

    Spartanburg serves as the mission hub for VCOM to produce globally minded, community focused physicians and to conduct research to improve human health. Improving population health by mitigating social inequities through a positive annual economic impact of nearly $60 million dollars in the state, providing care through our soon-to-open Northside Clinic, and pursuing funding to develop clinical research are examples of a few of the ways VCOM is striving to meet its mission objectives.

    Q: What unique challenges does a medical school such as VCOM face during a pandemic like the one we’re in now? How have you addressed those challenges?

    In preparing to accept students back to campus, VCOM offered the first two weeks of curriculum online while our students remained physically isolated in their Upstate residences and were monitored for evidence of COVID-19 symptoms. We continue to monitor all students, faculty, and staff daily through our My-Health-Tracer webpage prior to being cleared to enter our building wearing a face covering.

    Six-foot social distancing is achieved by splitting the day in half with live streaming of in-person lectures between both classrooms (with half of the chairs removed). All students have the option of viewing each lecture online instead. Labs are broken down into small groups that include the same individuals and faculty with appropriate PPE. A critical part of physician training involves hands-on skills, and VCOM has found creative, safe ways to provide this preclinical training to our students to include simulation and physical examination.

    Patient actors offer real-time, video-captured simulated telemedicine sessions that are reviewed with monitoring faculty that allow us to assess students skills in the biomedical and humanistic domains of the doctor-patient encounter. Students study off-campus following lectures, labs, and appropriately social distanced exams are proctored on-campus. Our upper level students complete their clinical rotations in the clinical learning environments of hospitals and office-based care facilities with appropriate PPE and following all required standards to prevent spread of infection.

    A New Resource for Women in Business: A Conversation with Ana Parra of CommunityWorks

    A New Resource for Women in Business: A Conversation with Ana Parra of CommunityWorks

    with Sharon Purvis

    Ana Parra, Women’s Business Center Program Director, CommunityWorks

    Earlier this year, CommunityWorks applied for and received funding from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to be one of two organizations in South Carolina to launch a Women’s Business Center. The CommunityWorks Women’s Business Center (WBC) is a part of a national network designed to help women start and grow small businesses.

     Q: Can you tell us a bit about the how CommunityWorks came to house the new Women’s Business Center—was it something CommunityWorks pursued, or was it more of an initiative in search of a home? Or a little of both?

    While CommunityWorks had to apply for the grant to fund the center, the organization’s commitment to building opportunities for all through financial education lending and investing made us a natural fit for the WBC. CommunityWorks has seen firsthand the growing number of women business owners in our Upstate community and the need for women to have supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem. With the WBC, we will be able to empower women entrepreneurs, through advocacy, outreach, networking, coaching, and education.

    Q: What kinds of programs will be offered to women with the center that are distinct from the other programs offered by CommunityWorks?

    The WBC continues the work of CommunityWorks to provide relevant training and resources to women and communities of color. Our focus has always been on reaching and work with those who have been traditionally underserved by traditional banking institutions. The WBC will be offering clients one-on-one support through our CommunityWorks team. The guidance and training offered is designed to build confidence, skills, networks, and access to capital to women, with an intentional outreach to women of color.

    Some of those programs include self-paced trainings, business planning using an online platform with the guidance and feedback from the WBC, and business coaching for businesses that have been disrupted by COVID-19.

    Q: I know that the Credit Union at CommunityWorks is for people who live or work in Greenville County. Does the Women’s Business Center likewise cater only to Greenville County residents, or is it open to women across the Upstate?

    We’re looking forward to working with women all over the Upstate and will be working in 15 counties: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Edgefield, Greenville, Greenwood, Lancaster, Laurens, McCormick, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg, Union and York.

    Q: When will the center be up and running, and what will the first offerings be?

    The CommunityWorks Women’s Business Center is open! When clients register with the CommunityWorks Women’s Business Center, they will be able to sign up for business consultation to determine how we can best help them on their business journey—whether that’s support in creating or updating a business plan, personal finance, or business coaching.

    We are working on a variety of trainings and webinars to help business owners better respond to COVID-19 depending on what sector they are in, as well as providing technical assistance in areas such as business planning, accounting, marketing, and technology.

    Q: What else do you want people to know about the Women’s Business Center?

    The CW WBC wants to support business owners at every level. We are here to help with next steps whether you are in the idea phase or growth phase. And if you happen to be a business owner who wants to provide mentorship and network with other small business owners, we want to hear from you too, as we develop a network of women entrepreneurs who represent the Upstate’s diverse communities and a variety of sectors.

    We have had such a great response so far and we hope to grow and develop to meet the needs of the amazing women who making the Upstate community a dynamic place to live.