Forty years after starting medical school with our first entering class, alumnus Ronald C. Moomaw, D.O. (’80), brought it all back home May 7 as commencement speaker for the Heritage College class of 2016. Moomaw, a psychiatrist and flight surgeon who works with NASA astronauts, reminisced about the high adventure of launching a new medical college in converted dormitory buildings and lauded the school for giving him “the chance to have the most fascinating life I could possibly imagine.” He was one of 24 medical students who began their studies here in 1976. With 129 new physicians, the class of 2016 is the largest graduating class in the college’s history.
“It’s because of the way the medical school was founded – different from any osteopathic medical school before it. It changed the standing of osteopathic medicine, and that happened at Ohio University. Period.”
– Thomas Wagner, Ph.D., retired distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology
Apparently, research really has been in our DNA from the start.
It was in 1980 – just four years after the college opened its doors – that a team led by Thomas E. Wagner, Ph.D., then a chemistry professor on our clinical and basic science faculty, developed DNA microinjection. In this process, an important addition to the genetic engineer’s toolbox, scientists take a gene for a particular trait from one animal and inject it into the embryo of another animal shortly after it’s fertilized. The new gene enters the DNA of the recipient, which can then pass the trait along to its offspring.
This discovery – and Wagner’s use of the process to create the world’s first transgenic mammal by transferring a rabbit gene into a mouse – revolutionized biomedical research, making national news at a time when gene-splicing was still in its infancy. A major collaborator in that research was microbiologist Joseph D. Jollick, Ph.D., who like Wagner was an original member of the college’s science faculty. The patented process of DNA microinjection, developed right here, remains a widely used, powerful tool in genetic medical research.
Wagner, who in 1983 co-founded biotech firm Diagnostic Hybrids Inc. and is now a retired distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology, is still finding ways to use molecular biology to treat disease. In 2013 he founded Perseus PCI (Personalized Cancer Immuno-therapeutics), a clinic that treats cancer with vaccines made from patients’ own tumor cells.
At a time when the college is developing a comprehensive research strategy to reaffirm its commitment to focused scientific study, it’s worth remembering that our researchers have engaged in world-class work almost from day one. Recalling the earliest days of the college, Wagner stresses that a commitment to hiring top-notch basic science faculty was a hallmark from the start. In turn, he says, the high value placed on research raised the prestige of the college, and ultimately, the entire osteopathic profession.
“It’s because of the way the medical school was founded – different from any osteopathic medical school before it,” Wagner said recently. “It changed the standing of osteopathic medicine, and that happened at Ohio University. Period.”
In 1975, the Ohio Legislature passed H.B. 229, the bill that founded our college. Yesterday, we went back to the Ohio Statehouse for a Founders Day Celebration. Proclamations were presented in both the Senate and House chambers, and more than 150 guests joined us for an evening reception in the historic Statehouse Rotunda, where we celebrated 40 years of service to Ohio and honored those who made the college and our work possible. There, legislators presented us with a proclamation from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, recognizing the college’s 40th anniversary. The Singing Men of Ohio were spectacular.
“In this photo, which was taken in the control room of the recording studio at WOUB, we appear to be discussing a script – probably looking at a troublesome sentence that needed to be reworded in some way. We had a good team and always worked together to provide sound medical information in an easy-to-understand way. We’d make changes as necessary right up to the point that we did the recording.”
– Carl Denbow, Ph.D., director emeritus of communications
In the age before WebMD and Internet-accessible medical and health news-you-can-use, there was Family Health radio. The program was the brainchild of Dr. Myers and championed by Dr. Denbow, Don Bilski, and many other radio announcers, producers and writers for more than 30 years. The two-and-a-half-minute program offered listeners timely, practical consumer-oriented health information. At its height, the program reached an estimated hundreds of thousands of listeners, on 250 radio stations domestically and worldwide in China, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the American Forces Radio Network.
Embracing diversity and serving the underserved are bedrock values for both our college and the osteopathic profession. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that we made history in August 1993, when our university and college chose an African American woman to be our dean.
When we announced that our new physician leader was Barbara Ross Lee, D.O., sister of Motown superstar Diana Ross, it marked a step forward for diversity in medical education. And Dr. Ross-Lee clearly understood that bringing more minorities into health care can mean better care for underserved populations. She also stressed the important role that osteopathic medicine can play in making that happen.
Speaking to Black Issues in Higher Educationabout her new job, Dr. Ross-Lee said osteopathic medicine offers great opportunities for minority physicians to improve care delivery to populations “we are most concerned about.” And as she has throughout her career, she spoke frankly about racial disparities in health care, calling them “a scandal of such long standing that it has lost the power to shock.”
Predictably, the national press had some fun with the fact that the new dean was sibling to a pop music icon. “Diana Ross’s big sister hit No. 1 on the charts this month,” deadpanned Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. “Not the record charts. The medical charts.”
African American media, though, cheered the appointment as a landmark. Dr. Ross-Lee herself hinted it was about time, telling Jet magazinethat initially, she hadn’t realized her appointment was a historic first. “I probably, like the rest of the country, was a little surprised,” she admitted, adding that she hoped “this breaking of a barrier will just turn into a tide and we’ll see a lot more black females achieving in medical academics.”
Dr. Ross-Lee’s seven years at the helm were important for more than barrier-busting. Dean emeritus Jack Brose, D.O., who served from 2001-2012 and is now vice provost for health affairs, praises Ross-Lee for her bold innovation and “terrific leadership skills. I know I certainly learned a lot from her.”
Creative leadership was indeed, as Dr. Brose suggests, a hallmark of her tenure. Under her direction the college developed the nation’s first osteopathic post-doctoral training institute; its Centers for Osteopathic Research and Education; its two curricular options; an independent Department of Biomedical Sciences; and a Center of Excellence for Multicultural Medicine.
In 2001 Dr. Ross-Lee left our college to go to the New York Institute of Technology, where she currently servesas vice president for health sciences and medical affairs, and site dean for the Jonesboro, Ark., campus of NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Since moving on, she has continued to carry the standard for osteopathic medicine, health care diversity, and serving the underserved. In doing so, she has carried on a tradition as old as osteopathic medicine founder A.T. Still, who battled throughout his 19th century career against slavery and racism, and in favor of women’s rights.
Perhaps the symbolic breakthrough she achieved should have come earlier. We’re proud that it happened here.
Many families have deep traditions that make for memories and lifelong connections. Our college is no exception.
On Saturday, Jan. 9, students from all three Heritage College campuses gathered in Athens for the high-gloss Heritage Ball, also known as the HCOM Prom. Sponsored by the Family Practice Club/Student Association of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, this annual event means it’s time for students, faculty and staff to brush off the formal wear and join in the Nae Nae. View photos from this year’s Heritage Ball.
Dancing is nothing new for us. Back in the early 1980s, our students celebrated with their classmates during the annual Champagne Dinner. By the 1990s, the Family Practice Banquet gave students a reason to pull out their dance shoes. And in the 2000s, the banquet, which began as a modest sit-down dinner with guest speaker, evolved into today’s gala.
Memories aren’t just made in the classroom. Here they’re made on the dance floor, a football field and the stage in Irvine 194. The Heritage Ball is just one example of the many events our students have initiated over the last 40 years as ways to enjoy time outside the lecture hall with their classmates, families, faculty and staff. Our students develop friendships that remain long after graduation.
With the opening of our two new campuses, we’re watching traditions change as we grow. New traditions are emerging at our Dublin and Cleveland campuses. Will Dublin’s Ugly Sweater Holiday Potluck stand the test of time?
“I have never enjoyed anything more than becoming friends with our many students”
There are those who sit in the front of the class and those who prefer the back of the class. And then there are those who’d rather sit with Mark Loudin.
How many of our alumni, faculty and staff did a spell in the Irvine 194 lecture hall control booth with Mark? Mark joined the Heritage College in 1999 as multimedia producer and director, with a responsibility and an incomparable talent for ensuring that the classroom technology works effortlessly for faculty and students. A familiar face – and voice – to nearly half of our graduates, many of us have have appreciated his warm welcome and a moment of respite in that dark room, participating in the classroom intensity from behind the glass wall, and enjoying Mark’s company, counsel and hundreds of refrigerator magnets and collection of college memorabilia.
Favorite part of his job:“Seeing a first-year student attending orientation, timid and afraid, without confidence and a bit more than overwhelmed. In four short years, that same individual blossoms into a confident, competent leader and then graduates – and enters a practice as a trusted and life-altering physician.”
Thoughts on technology:“Computer-age students have demanded that we change the way we approach education. We record and post thousands of classes and events and make them available in minutes online. We have integrated several types of technology into a cohesive unit of learning, which is unique of any medical school on the planet. Our students are amazing, and giving them the proper tools to learn and truly integrate the medical knowledge they must possess helps them in the real world.”
Inspiration:“I have had a very fortunate career. I have interviewed two sitting presidents, worked NFL sidelines for thousands of games, won a bunch of TV awards. All of that pales in my mind to the pride and accomplishment I feel on a Heritage College graduation day. I have never enjoyed anything more than becoming friends with our many students, and I certainly enjoy keeping in touch with as many as I can.”
Parting thought:“Let’s go! On to the next ideas, advancements and accomplishments!”
Reminisce with any member of our first class and sooner or later you’re likely to hear about Sherman Brooks, who served as mentor, confidante, adviser and tutor to students from 1976, when the college opened, till his retirement in 1985. And he did it all while keeping the hallways clean.
“There was a janitor – he was the nicest guy,” remembers 1980 alum Stephanie Knapp, D.O., now a pediatrician and allergist in Pennsylvania. “He was from southern Ohio. He was very encouraging when we were studying at night. He was such a great guy, and I really remember him and how kind he was and how welcoming.”
Knapp is just one of the many alums who still remember Brooks, who died in 1987. A 1978 student yearbook featured an in-depth feature on him, reporting that the custodian “has gained a legacy of respect from the osteopathic students by not only being a physical plant employee, but also a ‘resident dean of humanity’ … What can you say about a janitor who can tell you how cadavers are preserved, explain the functions of the heart, know the birthdates of 59 students and root and cheer for them through every arduous step of their scholastic career?”
Brooks reportedly had a lifelong interest in medicine, and had asked Ohio University to transfer him to work in Grosvenor Hall when the new medical school opened. “He would quiz the kids, and they loved him,” recalls Chip Rogers, who first worked for the college as assistant and driver to first Dean Gerald Faverman, and later went on to become director of alumni relations and director of advocacy.
In 1990, a number of people who had been with the college from its earliest days got together to honor the man who had always remembered students’ birthdays and had a kindly word to offer when they needed one. Some 25 year later, the Sherman Brooks Memorial Scholarship is still helping first-year students from small southeastern Ohio towns who have expressed an interest in rural family practice.
Do you have a Sherman story? If so, please share below.
As one of 32 medical schools selected nationwide to help lead the transformation of undergraduate medical education to better align with today’s health care systems, we’re in very good company.
We’re proud of our ongoing efforts to adapt our training to the changes our graduates are already experiencing in patient care. And it’s always gratifying when national experts acknowledge that we’re headed in the right direction. As members of the consortium, we’re ready to learn from our colleagues what curricular innovation looks like nationally – and we’re ready to share with them how it’s done in Ohio.