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Mountain Home Magazine

Doctors in the House

Sep 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

Tried to make a doctor’s appointment lately? Between the pandemic and retirements, the local shortage of medical professionals makes getting seen for anything short of a life-threatening emergency a waiting game. Nationally the shortage of doctors, particularly in primary care, numbers 100,000. In this region, though, things are changing—for the better.

Two years ago, the small city of Elmira got a figurative shot in the arm with the opening of a new satellite campus of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. This 52,000 square foot facility at 250 West Clinton Street, just off College Avenue and adjacent to Elmira College, houses labs, classrooms, and a medical library. It was constructed with the assistance of an economic development grant and officially opened its doors to the first class in July 2020. It still looks brand new, its gray terrazzo-type floors un-scuffed. But the school, whose motto is “The community is our campus,” is already making a difference. The class of 2024—upon their arrival two years ago—began volunteering in the community, helping to administer covid tests, and, when vaccinations became available, helping with vaccine clinics.

At full strength—next year when the class of 2027 enters its halls—the LECOM campus will host just under 500 students who will live, work, eat, and play in Elmira and its environs, plus faculty and support staff affiliated with the college. Qualifying Elmira College students enjoy reserved, early acceptance spots in LECOM’s medical, pharmacy, and dentistry programs.

The 120 new medical students who arrived here this summer—the class of 2026—are the third class to take to these halls. Bright, idealistic, energetic, they speak optimistically about their hopes of making positive change in the world while making medical care accessible to all. Their backgrounds are varied. A few in this year’s class already have medical degrees as nurses and physician’s assistants. A few are engineers. Their average age is twenty-five. Several have master’s degrees in related medical specialties that didn’t even exist when your doctor was training.

“We want students with a broad variety of experience, well-rounded, with a humanistic outlook, good communication skills, and good undergraduate performance in the sciences as well as strong scores on the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test],” says Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Richard Terry. Many students are from the central New York area and northeastern Pennsylvania. “We’re recruiting local students with the aspiration to stay in the area to practice,” he adds.

The path to becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is virtually identical to that of becoming a doctor of medicine (MD), with the addition of instruction in holistic medicine, musculoskeletal manipulation, and therapeutic touch, which is a hands-on mind/body approach used to not only diagnose but to alleviate pain, Richard says. About seventy-five percent of LECOM graduates become primary care physicians, often working in underserved areas like ours. LECOM does differ from other medical schools in one significant way. Tuition is lower, and this year may be further reduced by scholarships, helping graduates to enter the workplace with less academic debt. The popular notion of med school being four years of nonstop study may not be far off base. Students take classes, prepare for exams, complete off-campus observational rotations, shadow physicians in offices and in fourteen New York and Pennsylvania hospitals. Their schedules are equally busy even as their goals and experiences differ.

Chloe Den Haese, from Buffalo, already knows she’s leaning toward emergency medicine because she likes to focus on a patient’s immediate needs. Having volunteered as an undergraduate at a free medical clinic, she says, “I like the organized chaos of the ER.” She’s also drawn to working with Doctors Without Borders.

Abbas Al Hassam, from Dearborn, Michigan, says he’s always had an affinity for medicine and caregiving. He might later specialize in anesthesia, he says, and mentions the effectiveness of medical and non-medical instrumentation—like Apple watches—in gathering statistical information, allowing a doctor to focus more on the patient.

Brandon Weissman, also from Buffalo, says his father is a gynecologist, but he notes that will probably not be his own specialty. While still in high school, he did a research internship on glioblastoma, a variety of brain tumor. “It led me to keeping my options open,” he says. He came to LECOM after earning an MBA in health care administration.

Zainab Alam, from Plano, Texas, also has a master’s degree. Hers is in clinical research and information technology. After training as an emergency medical technician, and handling a stint at a homeless shelter in Capetown, South Africa, she realized, “I’m passionate about access to medical help.” She says, “I want to help all populations.”

She cites language as a barrier to care for some people, which may be one reason why students will also have classes in medical Spanish to better communicate with some of their patients. This comes late in the coursework, after students have covered anatomy, histology, problem-based learning, biostatistics, microbiology, pharmacology, differential diagnosis, osteopathic principles, how to take a patient history, and how to manage a physical examination.

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