It started with a vision – to address Alabama's shortage of primary care physicians by establishing a third medical college and the state's first college of osteopathic medicine. That vision has become a reality with the July 29 opening of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM).
ACOM is also the only osteopathic medical school in the nation constructed and affiliated with a regional not-for-profit medical center.
An academic division of Southeast Alabama Medical Center (SAMC), ACOM offers a comprehensive four-year postgraduate medical education program. ACOM becomes the state's third medical school, joining the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham and the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile.
The 162 students that make up ACOM's inaugural group come from across the U.S. and will begin classes on August 5.
The fundamental principles of osteopathic medicine stress that the body is a unit and the person is a unity of body, mind and spirit. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance. Structure and function are interrelated. Based on these principles, DOs receive 200 hours of training in diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal complaints.
The Houston County Health Care Authority board, which operates SAMC, had the foresight to seriously consider founding a college as a solution to the state's physician shortage, with discussions starting as early as 2001.
Paramount to ACOM's start was the creation of a physician pipeline by the Alabama Medical Education Consortium (AMEC), established in 2005 to address these current and future physician shortages. AMEC set up clinical sites for third and fourth year osteopathic medical students at facilities across the state, including at SAMC.
Gov. Robert Bentley, who is also a retired dermatologist, has been a part of this effort, and thus the founding of ACOM. He was one of more than 500 local, state and regional dignitaries to attend a January 2012 groundbreaking for the college.
"The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine is important because it will increase the number of physicians in Alabama," Bentley said. "I have been privileged to be a part of the Alabama Medical Education Consortium since 2004. So many people have contributed to the growth of the medical college, and I'm proud to have played a role in the original vision of this school. I'm proud of what's being accomplished, not just for the physicians and students involved, but also for the residents of southeast Alabama."
There is overwhelming data indicating that physicians tend to practice close to where they received their medical training and education. Also, students in osteopathic medical school are more likely to enter the primary care practices of family medicine, internal medicine, OB/GYN and pediatrics.
ACOM is a 110,000-square-foot, three-story facility, located less than two miles east of the SAMC campus, is a 21st Century learning institution with state-of-the art integrated technology, an electronic library and laboratories with high-definition cameras for the most detailed viewing as displayed on video monitors. The technology creates a productive learning and working environment.
"The opening of the college is truly a historic event that will pave the way for ensuring the delivery of world class healthcare while continuing to spur economic opportunities for many generations to come," said Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker.
According to a Chamber of Commerce commissioned study by the national research firm of Tripp Umbach, ACOM is expected to have a total economic impact of $169 million by 2020. Nearly 2,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created by 2030 with total tax revenues at about $13 million.
"Jobs are great, but that is not the big, big thing," said Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver. "There is great value in the opportunity to promote the college as something else Dothan and Houston County have to offer. We have all these great healthcare, recreational facilities, retail, restaurants, two colleges and now a medical school. It gives us a lot of credibility.
"There is so much more opportunity that can take place because of the medical college," Culver said. "While the immediate economic impact is great, my excitement is for the long-term benefit to our community."
On-campus housing is a feature that sets ACOM apart from many other medical schools. ACOM partnered with Picerne Military Housing which has a new division called Corvias Campus Living that specializes in on-campus student housing. Summerfield Square is a 72-unit apartment community with many comfortable amenities.
Click here for more information on the ACOM Open House.