New medical school opens at Sam Houston State University

It's a big day at Sam Houston State University. They're opening a new medical school to train osteopathic doctors.

The College of Osteopathic Medicine is tucked into a serene seven-and-a-half acres in Conroe, sitting south of Sam Houston State University's main campus in Huntsville. They're on track to start classes, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously, doctors are used to wearing masks and face coverings all the time, so they're just having to get used to it a little earlier. As they start their medical school career, all of the faculty and students will be in face coverings, and we have broken the 75 (students) up into four groups, so that they will have the appropriate social distancing," explains SHSU President Dr. Dana Hoyt.

Dr. Hoyt has served as President of Sam Houston State University the past ten years and is thrilled to see this all come to life under her tenure. She says witnessing the students go through their white coat ceremony was a beautiful moment, even though they had to do it virtually for their families, during the pandemic.

“They get their coat, as they come into medical school with their names on them, so it's a very emotional kind of event," reflects Dr. Hoyt.

We got to meet up with Dr. Hoyt before the pandemic, back when preparations were underway at the empty building. It felt like we were walking from a medical building, right into a hospital. They'll be concentrating on osteopathic medicine, which combines modern medicine with technology, while also concentrating on preventing disease. More than half of osteopathic doctors practice in rural areas, so this medical school is targeting students who are from those areas.

"Out of our 75 students in this inaugural class, half are from the target east Texas region, and under-served regions that we were interested in. The most likely indicator of where a doctor will go back and practice is where they grew up. So, we're able to fulfill with these students and hopefully the mission and purpose of what the school is set up to do," states Dr. Hoyt.

Dr. Charles Henley is the dean of the new school. He says the building is set up for the way students think and learn today, so they won't be seated with a professor up front. Their instructor will be right there, in the middle of them.

"Here we are all about interacting with students. We'll be talking to them about not so much what we want them to remember for a test, but how do they learn," explains Dean Henley.

Students will learn through different types of patients in rooms that mimic a doctor’s office, from simulators to people, acting as patients.

"We're hoping to pull-in drama and theater students, to be acting parts, so it will be a nice way to bring some of our campus down. The operating room offers a nice view, where you see trees outside, probably not the norm for most operating rooms," smiles President Hoyt. 

A lot of heart and thought has been put into this new medical school that will soon welcome many more students, but will do it slowly to meet accreditation.

"We'll take 75 (students) in the first year. And then 112 and then 150, and then eventually we'll be at 600 students a year," says Dean Henley.

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