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VA Tech Board of Visitors Receives Glimpse of Vision for Medical School’s Future

During their August meeting, members of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors received a firsthand look at what makes the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) such an inspiring and integral part of Roanoke’s health care community. They also learned about future plans for the school as it supports the building of the commonwealth’s physician workforce.

Lee Learman, dean of VTCSOM, presented a history of Virginia Tech’s ninth official school and its mission to prepare physician thought leaders. He placed emphasis on the importance of institutional collaborations in training medical students.

“We are proud to be a fully integrated school at Virginia Tech and our unique partnerships within and outside the university are essential to prepare our students for success,” Learman said. “We work with our founding partner Carilion Clinic to provide an academic health center and outstanding physician faculty, we collaborate with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC on biomedical research, innovation and student research mentoring, and we work alongside Radford University Carilion on health systems and interprofessional education. We believe that it takes a community of organizations to drive advancement in health sciences and health professions education for the benefit of our Roanoke community.”

Learman led a tour of the VTCSOM building, showing board members problem-based learning rooms, classrooms with embedded technology, a clinical skills assessment center, and a video montage of a simulation center and other Carilion facilities that form the clinical learning environment for students, residents and faculty. They also visited the new student center, which had its grand opening on Aug. 17 and features a full kitchen, gathering and meeting spaces, recreational equipment, relaxing sofas and chairs as well as areas for entertainment.

“Our students spend so much time in class and studying within the building that we want them to have an area to unwind and get to know their peers,” said Rebecca Pauly, vice dean of VTCSOM. “Student leadership was involved in the design process from the beginning. We believe the Student Center will be a dedicated student space for relaxing and rejuvenating, thus promoting wellbeing and avoiding burnout.”

Learman laid out a vision for growth to help alleviate Virginia’s physician shortage. He cited national workforce studies finding that the production of new physicians is not keeping pace with physician retirements and the aging population. By 2030, the projected shortfall is 139,000 physicians nationally and a deficit of nearly 4,000 physicians in Virginia. He said VTCSOM is seeking in-state tuition support as well as a new building to grow enrollment in the school and help meet the needs of Virginians.

VTCSOM is currently among the smallest and most selective medical schools in the country, with 49 annual admissions and 138 applications per position. Meanwhile, out of 630 Virginians admitted to U.S. medical schools in 2022-23, only 263 are attending medical schools in the commonwealth.

“We know that physicians who attend medical school in a state are significantly more likely to practice in that state. The data shows an even stronger relation when those physicians complete their graduate medical education [GME], or residency program, within that state,” Learman said. “It is exciting to see many of our alumni returning to serve the health care needs of the Roanoke region. I am certain that with in-state tuition support and the expansion of GME offerings, we will see more and more of our students returning.”

The plan contemplates growing the school’s current total enrollment to no more than 100 students per class.

“As we determine our exact enrollment capacity, we will be guided by principles for growth including an insistence that the larger VTCSOM class of the future has access to the same outstanding experience our current students do,” Learman said.  “Our students value close-knit student relationships and faculty mentoring, our innovative problem-based learning curriculum that features research and health systems science training alongside traditional basic and clinical science education, and opportunities to engage with our community including underserved populations. These features will continue to define our school, even as we build additional opportunities for student education, research, and professional development.”

Adam Tate and Megan Whitham, married alumni from the Class of 2018, recently moved back to Roanoke to start their family with a daughter and work at Carilion Clinic.

“We both loved being here during school and made many important connections, which contributed to our desire to move back once we were finished with residency and fellowship training,” Tate told Virginia Business. Whitham added, Roanoke was “an exciting place for us to come back to because it has been developing quickly, and there is a growing young professional community that is so welcoming in this area.”

While discussing future changes to the medical school and its plans for growth, Learman was quick to point out that the exceptional qualities of VTCSOM will remain the same. It will continue to be a small, tight-knit school with an extensive focus on research. Its future will also remain intricately intertwined with the Roanoke community it serves.

“This is home,” he said.

– Mark Owczarski

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