LUCOM’s top administrators Joseph F. Smoley, PhD (left), Eric Gish, DO, Ronnie B. Martin, DO, and Timothy O. Leonard, MD, PhD will welcome the inaugural class in August.
Expanding patient care

New school aims to meld Christian worldview, dedication to underserved

The Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lynchburg, Va., looks to address physician shortages in Appalachia.

Located in the scenic foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia, a new osteopathic medical school will welcome up to 150 students in August. The second DO school in the state, the Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) in Lynchburg aims to address physician shortages in Appalachia and other medically underserved regions of the country.

Founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the famed televangelist and conservative political commentator, Liberty University has a strong Christian outlook that the college will reflect, says Ronnie B. Martin, DO, LUCOM’s dean.

“All who come here are welcome and will be treated with respect. We have no faith requirement for students,” Dr. Martin says, noting that the first class includes Hindus, Muslims and other non-Christians. “But we have a Christian worldview at this institution. Prospective students need to make sure that they will be comfortable in this environment.”

A 40-year-old institution, Liberty decided to open a medical school as part of a long-term plan to become a comprehensive university upholding excellent academic standards, Dr. Martin says. The university has already launched a law school and a school of engineering.

Opening a college of osteopathic medicine rather than an MD school was a clear choice for the university’s governing board members, according to Dr. Martin. “They felt that osteopathic medicine’s philosophy of holistic patient-centered care and emphasis on the body, mind and spirit were compatible and consistent with their Christian worldview and educational convictions,” he says.

LUCOM’s mission is to produce community-based physicians who will practice needed specialties in underserved locales. These specialties include family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.

“We will prepare our students to enter any discipline,” Dr. Martin says. “But through the design of our curriculum and the faculty role models I put in front of them, we are going to try to influence students to go into these primary and preventive care specialties.”

A private nonprofit institution, Liberty University received a $20.5 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to help pay for constructing and equipping the 140,000-square-foot building that houses the osteopathic medical school. Plans are also underway to build an 80,000-square-foot research building.

To attract students from economically disadvantaged locales, LUCOM is offering a 5% tuition discount to individuals from the state’s traditional coal and tobacco counties. Other scholarships are also available for students who make a commitment to practice in underserved areas.

“I place a big emphasis on recruiting students from Virginia,” Dr. Martin says. “But we will have students from all states and probably from other countries.”

Spiral curriculum

Like many medical schools today, LUCOM has developed a curriculum that de-emphasizes the traditional lecture-based format in favor of small-group, case-based experiential learning. “Only a minority component of students’ education will be delivered by the classic lecture,” Dr. Martin says.

The school has adopted a spiral curricular design, notes Timothy O. Leonard, MD, PhD, LUCOM’s associate dean for biomedical affairs and research. This means that biomedical and clinical content is strategically reiterated throughout the curriculum, so that students’ understanding deepens with each successive encounter.

“In the traditional model of education, students are presented with material they are expected to learn and they are expected to produce some understanding of it on an exam. Then it’s on to the next subject area,” Dr. Leonard explains. “Students don’t necessarily have the opportunity to revisit and reapply what they learned previously.

“In the spiral curricular design, students revisit what they previously learned so they can recall it, expand upon it and apply it. That way there is more consolidation of understanding.”

Illustrating this concept, students will study anatomy in both their first and second year. First-year students will engage in cadaveric dissection during their body system-organized courses. In the second year, students will revisit their study of human anatomy in a more focused clinical context through targeted dissections and selected prosections that clarify common clinical procedures, such as joint injections and tracheostomies.

“When the second-year students are doing their dissection, they will have a better idea of what it is they are looking for and how to find it,” Dr. Leonard says. “And when they encounter abnormalities in the human body, they’ll have a better clinical basis for understanding and exploring those abnormalities.”

Longitudinal clinical experiences

From their first year, students will have many opportunities to develop their clinical skills, notes Eric Gish, DO, LUCOM’s associate dean for clinical affairs. They will practice interviewing patients and hone their physical exam techniques in 16 standardized patient rooms and six simulator rooms. Among the college’s high-tech tools are ultrasound machines that help students identify palpation landmarks and develop their manipulation skills, Dr. Gish says.

But students will also have longitudinal contact with real patients from the outset. In their first trimester, they will be paired up with individuals residing at a long-term-care facility in Lynchburg.

“All who come here are welcome and will be treated with respect. We have no faith requirement for students,” says LUCOM Dean Ronnie B. Martin, DO. (Photo provided by LUCOM)

“The goal isn’t for the students to manage the patients’ care but for them to develop and maintain the humanity and humility that otherwise has the potential to be lost as they proceed in their education,” Dr. Gish says.

For its third- and fourth-year core rotations, LUCOM is partnering with Centra, a regional health system based in Lynchburg that includes four hospitals. Centra can take up to 80 students. To accommodate the rest of the student body, the college is forging affiliation agreements with other health systems and community hospitals in Virginia.

LUCOM wants to keep students in one community throughout at least their third year. “Our goal is not just to train students but to integrate them into the community they are serving,” Dr. Gish says. “By remaining in one place, students will learn what social services are available to underserved patients, what physician referrals are available, what services the nearest hospitals provide, what federally qualified health centers are out there—the entire support structure for that patient population.

“We also hope that if students start laying down roots, they’ll be more likely to return.”

LUCOM is also developing residencies at its clinical sites to entice future graduates to remain in those communities. In addition, the college has joined the osteopathic postdoctoral training institution (or OPTI) that includes the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine—Virginia Campus in Blacksburg and the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Buies Creek, N.C.

“We’re trying to collaborate with everybody in the region,” Dr. Gish says. “We feel that collaboration strengthens education, as opposed to competing, which breaks it down.”

In keeping with the school’s mission to care for the underserved, each student will serve an out-rotation in an impoverished community, which can be in the United States or overseas. Dr. Martin expects that many LUCOM students will pursue international rotations. One possible site is a hospital in Guatemala that Liberty University is building in partnership with Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. Liberty has also approached hospitals in Cameroon and Tanzania about taking on LUCOM students.

Practice-ready professionals

LUCOM aspires to produce physicians who will have the knowledge and skills to practice top-quality 21st century medicine, Dr. Martin says.

“I challenge my faculty all the time to remember that we will not be training students to practice the way we did,” notes Dr. Martin, who practiced rural family medicine in Oklahoma in the 1980s and 1990s. “Medicine has advanced tremendously, and the old fee-for-service model is going by the wayside.”

In their second year, LUCOM students will get a taste of what it means to be practice-ready physicians when they take a business of medicine course. The class will cover the fundamentals of the patient-centered medical home model of care and practice-management basics, such as billing, coding and documentation in the age of electronic health records.

Overall, says Dr. Martin, memorizing facts is less important to medical students today, given the electronic information resources at everyone’s fingertips. “Medical knowledge is available to lots of people,” he notes. “What we have to teach our students is the interpretation, application and utilization of that knowledge.”

To ensure that students succeed in school and have the wherewithal to excel on the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States, LUCOM will assess students early in the first trimester and frequently thereafter, says Joseph F. Smoley, PhD, the associate dean for academic affairs.

“We need to make sure that the structure and pace of our curriculum are not only conducive to learning but also to taking the tests that are required for graduation,” Dr. Smoley says. “And we’ll need to identify early on any students who are having difficulties and give them the support they need.”

Community impact

Estimated at roughly $45 million a year, the economic impact of the new osteopathic medical school on Lynchburg will be significant, Dr. Martin says. In turn, students and faculty will benefit from being part of a city of 78,000 people in a population hub of almost a quarter-million.

With four other institutions of higher learning nearby, the area has some 30,000 college students, which keeps Lynchburg “very young, very active and very vivacious,” according to Dr. Martin.

“Lynchburg is a very nice southern city,” he says. “It is a safe and economically stable area that is rich in colonial and Civil War history. Everything that you need is here.”


  1. How can there be a MEDICAL school at a University that refuses to teach or believe in EVOLUTION? Will they not bother about the entirety of drug resistant bacteria?

    Seeing as they’ve banned student groups in the past for supporting the Democratic party, citing differences of opinion on LGBT rights and abortion, will they also teach their students not to provide this care?

  2. Why is this a good idea? Does Virginia really need another medical school? And how do we know that they won’t be teaching non scientific materials as fact like they do in their undergraduate courses?

  3. I may agree with you to a minor extent if this medical school only accepted people from their institution but, this is not the case. Your use of hasty generalizations on a population of future medical students and faith based people is astonishing and not evidence based. The school is accepting people that have no religion, different religious beliefs and the same beliefs. These students have different viewpoints politically and ethically and will be diverse. The school is not asking you to quit your beliefs to attend their program, only to realize that you should be respectful of the parent institutions beliefs while on campus or at school related events in the community. The majority of the students that will be attending have taken/believe in evolution just a few may have different takes on the matter. Also, drug resistant bacteria suggest microscopic evolution, I do not think you will meet an educated creationist who would argue this point, they usually debate macroscopic evolution due to creator design. The institution will also have to follow the same guidelines as every other institution and cover the necessary designed curriculum. As to the point of not providing care to patients with different viewpoints, this is preposterous. This is a medical school that is teaching patient care and ethical responsibility, of course they will provide top notch care to everyone. Do you think this parent institution is going to brainwash people and turn them into someone they are not with subliminal messages and forced religion? As someone who actually interviewed here and met the faculty and staff, this is going to be a great institution that anyone should be proud to attend. I urge those curious about the medical school itself, to go there, check it out, and quit spreading rumors and accusations using a laundry list of logical fallacies. As an osteopathic medical community, we should be lifting each other up, not trying to tear down or discredit those who chose to attend this school for their education. I wish the students at every institution this year success and hope the best for all.

  4. Medicine is based on two pillars of philanthropia, our love of humanity, and technophilia our love science The Charter on Medical Professionalism, now over a decade old and endorsed by virtually every organized body in medicine including the AOA lists as one of its 10 commitments A commitment to Scientific Knowledge. This commitment states:
    “Much of medicine’s contract with society is based on the integrity and appropriate use of scientific knowledge and technology. Physicians have a duty to uphold scientific standards, to promote research, and to create new knowledge and ensure its appropriate use. The profession is responsible for the integrity of this knowledge, which is based on scientific evidence and physician experience.”
    It will be challenging for this university to uphold this tenet of medical professionalism in an atmosphere that houses a Department of Creation Studies and describes their Creation Hall as a place where the “origins debate” is displayed. Belief before empirical data is fraught with danger. Other faith based schools have wrestled with these issues including top flight allopathic institutions such as Loma Linda University. I hope that Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine will uphold science, not faith based or atheistic science, but a rigorous dedication to the systematic study of the biologic and physical world though observation and experiment and not a discipline based on beliefs espoused in the absence of questions.

    L H Calabrese
    Professor of Medicine
    Cleveland CLinic Lerner College of Medicine

  5. I can honestly say as a DO, I’m ashamed!
    A medical school that will fundamentally train physicians that evolution is a hoax and that some patients (the LGBT community) should not have equal rights, while not training students the full scope of appropriate woman’s health is NOT CONSISTENT WITH THE OSTEOPATHIC PHILOSOPHY.

    Built with tobacco money even!

    This place carrying the name as an osteopathic medical school brings the whole field of osteopathy down, and returns old rhetoric that was hard fought by thousands of osteopathic physicians for decades – THAT WE ARE A CULT.

    While attending residency and fellowship at some of the most prestigious allopathic GME programs in the country, I was always proud to know I was trained as a DO and am an active member of the osteopathic Community. And hearing of this new osteopathic institution, I must say, I am ashamed.

    1. It is quite unfortunate when people such as yourself leave misguided comments and incorrect facts.

      First, LU teaches evolution objectively, both intelligent design and macro/micro evolution. LU distinguishes the former as a Biblical perspective from the latter as a secular perspective. LU does not not push one view on their students over the other, but rather encourages students to think critically about the issue.

      LU Med believes in holistic and patient-centered care for all people, including women and the LGBT community. Do not misconstrue them as Bible thumping, liberal hating people because I can just as misconstrue liberals as baby-killing, heterosexual hating people, which I know you would find insulting and false.

      The funds that built LU Med is from subsidies from the tobacco company set aside specifically for pulmonary/cancer research, and health related issues.

      Osteopathy and osteopathic medicine are separate fields. I would suggest not confusing the two.

      I recommend that you take a less emotional and prejudiced perspective on this issue. You are just as guilty of the very same things you are alleging LU to be. Be professional, base your comments on objective facts, and sound analyses. All I’ve seen from you so far is something the medical community would be ashamed of.

  6. Why are my fellow DO’s too quick to assume that LUCOM won’t teach evolution? How will they obtain full accreditation if they deny teaching evolutionary science to their students? Just because LUCOM is a Christian institution doesn’t mean at all that their teachers won’t teach the sciences necessary to pass the boards.

  7. @mamdo. we all see your capitalization of the word ‘theory.’ While I don’t know your true intention of doing this, from experience I can only infer that this yet another inescapable attempt to deliberately create a sense of doubt of evolution that would supersede prevailing reason. When I talk to my kids about ‘theories,’ I often just quote from the kids section of the pbs website that states ” a ‘theory’ is a rigorously tested statement of general principles that explains observable and recorded aspects of the world. A scientific theory therefore describes a higher level of understanding that ties “facts” together. A scientific theory stands until proven wrong — it is never proven correct.” So, to return to your narrative, your judgement of Natalie is hard to understand whilst Natalie did indeed bring up a valid point

  8. I’m astonished at the comments here. Almost every comment here is based on an old reputation of the school and not based on fact.

    Liberty University has grown exponentially over the past few years that includes residential and online student enrollment of over 100,000 students. Their students have an incredible mindset towards service to others and creating an osteopathic medical school there only makes sense.

    Like another commented earlier, if you have any doubts, visit their campus and you’ll realize that this place is a really cool and exciting place. The medical school that they are creating there is nothing short of true professionalism and very much in line with osteopathic medicine.

  9. Why is Darwinism even considered to be a fundamental basis for any genre of medicine? It is not the holy grail that these objectors exalt. I must say, you should be ashamed for your myopic positions. Lets not retry John Thomas Scopes theories relative to this situation. Osteopathic Medicine can speak for itself without interjecting debatable issues.

  10. As men of science, should we not wait for the results of the first class from Liberty University COM and the data before we make claims that are unfounded. Rest assured, I am not evangelical christian, but I respect the beliefs of others and will not rush to judgement. I will join this team at LUCOM and work hard to make myself shine as well as this program. I believe in the professors, the dean and this community and as a team I believe we will succeed. I urge you all to give it a chance, when I went here to interview I did not even plan on attending. To my surprise it has been one of my favorite places thus far. I can assure you I will work hard to become a great D.O. and I plan on working hard to make sure we prevail as the inaugural class of 2018.

  11. I congratulate them and wish them much success in teaching some of our future physicians. In no way will their affiliation with a University with a strong Christian outlook negatively effect their students.

  12. first off we aren’t all men of science.I have nothing against Christianity and I think most Tenets in Christianity work well with medicine. but I fear Liberty will not teach evolution. I also fear how they will cover LGBTQ issues and reproductive health.
    Sorry for spelling errors. On cell.

  13. There seems to be an uprising against an entire group of people without any basis or knowledge on the subject. Isn’t that discrimination? The tenets of osteopathic medicine dictate that all shall be served. Christianity teaches us to love and serve all of Gods people, not just some. I’m thrilled that our new school will emphasize Service to humanity. I doubt very seriously that the people who rail against this school would have any issue with any other minority. It’s easy to hate Christian ideals, American ideals, and people who serve with open and loving hearts. Perhaps they are the mirror we avoid looking in. Shouldn’t all osteopathic professionals embrace the service ideals and philosophy? It sounds pretty awesome and in line with AT Still to me.

  14. Are you all saying that Christians cannot practice medicine? There are other Christian allopathic and osteopathic medical schools too. Does this mean that everyone in the CMDA shouldn’t practice osteopathic medicine?

  15. No. What I’m saying is I don’t agree with this particular school which was founded by notoriously bigot Jerry Falwell

  16. Frankly both Falwell and Darwin are gone. Evolution is just a theory. And theories always change and “evolve.” Who cares? I don’t know Falwell but I never heard him hate anyone but I don’t know Natalie either yet I hear nothing but venom in her responses. So who cares. When I was a resident I believed in Jesus as my savior and I do even more now. I was the only resident to put the swans, art. And central lines in the AIDS patients. Everyone else chickened out. I don’t agree with the LBTQ crowds life choices but that’s their choice. Thank you US Constitution. I treat people because that’s what they are…human beings. It’s called love of fellow man or woman. But Natalie or nates of this world don’t suggest that just because Christians espouse a philosophy different from your own that we are not worthy enough or care enough to be a good doctor.

  17. Natalie, I do not think you understand how a medical school must be run to stay open and become accredited in the United States. I suggest you look at the bylaws and educational requirements for D.O. schools on the AOA website, your claims of lesser education are unwarranted. Also, let us not forget, that a person that judges and entire school or population of people because of their prejudice to one man, is also by definition a bigot. Why can you simply not be happy for those who want to receive their education here? No one will force you to attend here I assure you. Although we disagree, I still care for your well-being and wish you the best on your journey into medicine or the avenue of your choice.

  18. Although I have not seen the specific curriculum for this medical school, I would assume that it will include the basics that are required for all medical schools to get accredited. I personally don’t recall Evolution being taught when I was in medical school. I think I had it in undergraduate school though. I think the tenets of christianity and osteopathy are very similar. Treat the whole person, not a part of the person. Jesus didn’t teach judging but acceptance. As osteopaths, we have been judged for years and have only gained wide spread acceptance in the last 15 years. I am excited that we will have this new school to continue to foster the concepts of osteopathy. I don’t think the school has sold itself to the evil tobacco company just so they could get funding. It is not easy to obtain funding for new schools. Maybe they will support research that will find other uses for tobacco that doesn’t include human consumption? All people, including physicians, have a right to their own opinions. Whether it is a religious belief, in abortion, LGBT issues, or body art. I don’t think a school is going to try to indoctrinate someone into a particular belief. Brainwashing has never been a part of medical school curriculum and I don’t think anyone is going to start now. I think everyone needs to quit judging a book based on its cover. I love Svenka’s attitude and wish her and the rest of the first class great success and we are all glad you are joining the Osteopathic Community!

  19. For @Return to Cult Status:

    I believe the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission was created to revitalize/help struggling communities whose economies were once highly dependent on tobacco – which is no longer being produced in those areas. It is NOT money from sale of tobacco. Their mission includes: “provide payments to tobacco farmers as compensation for the adverse economic effects resulting from loss of investment in specialized tobacco equipment and barns and lost tobacco production opportunities associated with a decline in quota.” This also includes funding for improving health and education to help these communities get back on their feet, independent from tobacco.

  20. I am overwhelmed with excitement that LUCOM has evolved…no pun intended. I attended OUCOM in 1985. I am of the mind that D.O.’s truly do it better, as our belief in finding the underlying etiology for disease, rather than just treatment for disease, truly saves lives. When I became a D.O. in 1989, I wanted to be one. I wasn’t a D.O. who really wanted to be an M.D. As a woman physician, who is a Christian, I fully support LUCOM! In fact, I will be in touch to see how I can help. I have been a National Educator and Trainer for Osteopathic Physicians since 1989 through the present.
    Oh by the way, my children attend a Christian High School, and yes they learn about evolution in science class. And at the end of the day, it’s incomprehensible to me that the intricate human body could have ever been created by anyone or anything, other than our creator, the almighty God himself.

  21. LUCOM is my first choice and I will be attending in its inaugural class. I’m just gonna briefly comment on some of the issues brought up:

    1. Yes Liberty is a Christian University. However, LUCOM accepts students from all religions and beliefs (or lack of belief). How do I know? I have several non-Christian classmates. The goal of LUCOM is to train physicians in order to meet the needs of an underserved community- not convert people into Christians.

    2. The thing about evolution. Yes the UNDERGRADUATE biology department tends to swing towards Creationism. But LUCOM is a medical school, a graduate program. The school wants its students to succeed in board exams (COMLEX and for some, the USMLE). Everything taught in another COM will be taught at Liberty. How do I know? I checked the curriculum guide.

    3. The thing about the tobacco money. Funding for LUCOM was not from sales of tobacco. It is from the settlement with tobacco companies who, because of the damage that smoking has caused, were mandated to pay back the community with money it is owed.

    I am excited to attend LUCOM because of the strong sense of community and support. Before anyone else tries to tarnish the image of the school, please visit and see for yourself.

  22. For a well educated crowd…some of you had me fooled for a second there.

    FACT: LUCOM has received provisional accreditation.
    FACT: This would not be possible under the curriculum Natalie proposed.
    FACT: The logic here tires me. Yawn.

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