By Margaret Garcia

osteopathic illustration smallerOver the last 10 years, the growth at UIW has been nothing short of phenomenal. The creation of the Feik School of  harmacy, Rosenberg School of Optometry and School of Physical Therapy all conceived and opened during this time are examples of how UIW and President Louis Agnese continue to look to the future while serving the Mission of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that by 2016 the university could be accepting students to a UIW medical school.

 According to UIW Chancellor Dr. Denise Doyle, the discussion of a medical school began “about a year and a half ago… when Dr. Agnese first started to question the idea of whether or not we could have a medical school at UIW.” The first definitive action came at a University Planning Commission meeting in 2012 when the group voted to move forward with a feasibility study. A group of capstone students from UIW’s H-E-B School of Business and Administration were tasked with completing the study and were the first to come up with the idea of an osteopathic medical school. “They felt that it best fit the Mission of the university because of its threefold practice of well body, well mind, well spirit and the integration of treating the whole person,” said Doyle.

There are currently 29 schools of osteopathic medicine in the United States. Only one is located in Texas at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. In addition, there is just one private medical school in the Southwestern U.S., the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, this practice provides all of the benefits of modern medicine but also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment. It also emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.

Upon completion of the study conducted by the students, UIW Provost Dr. Kathi Light created a task force to study osteopathic medicine and what it would mean for UIW. That process culminated in March 2013, when a consultant was hired to educate the UIW community and discuss the possibility of the medical school through a series of presentations. UIW representatives also went out into the San Antonio business and medical communities to discuss and gain support for the project.

Though some in the community may question UIW’s ability to open a medical school, Doyle believes UIW has a proven track record. “I am pleased to say that our pharmacy school was accredited right after its first students graduated,” said Doyle. “Our school of optometry was also accredited without any issues just after graduating its first class, so even though there are people in the community who might ask ‘can Incarnate Word really pull this off?’ as a matter of fact we not only can, we have. We have made major commitments to those professional schools and to those students and through those students to the people of South Texas.”

In June, UIW’s board of trustees unanimously voted to move forward with the feasibility study that could lead to the opening of a $50 million osteopathic medical school by 2016. As part of the process, a second official feasibility study must be conducted by the dean of the school who is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. The audited results of the study are then presented to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). This body serves the public by establishing, maintaining and applying accreditation standards and procedures. According to Doyle this study must be completed and presented before candidacy can even be considered by COCA. A nationwide search has begun for a dean.

“We are hoping that we will bring someone on in early 2014,” said Doyle, “to do the feasibility study and in the best of all possible worlds that person will immediately begin to hire their administrative staff, academic support, associate deans, etc… and then gradually the faculty…bringing in our students in 2016.”

Doyle noted that “a founding dean is not walking into something existing. They have to have a vision and they have to build it from the ground up. You really want the person who not only builds the school but makes sure that school is organically connected to the University of the Incarnate Word, to the Mission of the university and to the Sisters. This is not just any osteopathic school this is the University of the Incarnate Word School of Medicine.”

Agnese has investigated four possible locations for the school including a UIW-owned facility on Datapoint Drive that also houses the Rosenberg School of Optometry; the unused sports fields at Fox Tech High School, a San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) health-professions school located downtown; Brooks City-Base; and an area located at I-35 and Walters. The Fox Tech location has been a forerunner as it could become the anchor for a downtown medical center. If approved, the partnership with SAISD would benefit the university as well as the students and faculty of the school district.

“Dr. Agnese is extremely visionary. He sees the life…and the future of the university as being driven by and built on the capacity to keep growing,” said Doyle. “Dr. Agnese’s vision is one that is not always comfortable for everybody. It generally means a lot of work for some of us and yet it is the thing that will keep all of us moving forward.”