Fort Smith col­lege ush­ers in first class

162 fu­ture os­teopaths be­gin train­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE HUGHES

FORT SMITH — The Arkansas Col­lege of Os­teo­pathic Medicine opened Mon­day at Chaf­fee Cross­ing with the goal of in­creas­ing the supply of doc­tors to serve western Arkansas.

School of­fi­cials gath­ered the 162 stu­dents of the col­lege’s in­au­gu­ral class in the main lec­ture hall to wel­come them and chal­lenge them to an­swer the call to ser­vice.

“This is an his­toric event,” said Kyle Parker, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the col­lege. “You’re the first class that took a chance to come to a brand-new med­i­cal school.”

Ri­cardo Al­bar­ran, 25, of Ben­ton County said the os­teo­pathic col­lege gives him the chance to study close to home and be­come the kind of doc­tor that makes a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives.

Al­bar­ran comes from a Mex­i­can im­mi­grant back­ground and his fam­ily never had an op­por­tu­nity for an ed­u­ca­tion, he said, but Arkansas

has given him the chance to go to high school, to col­lege and now to med­i­cal school.

“It’s a to­ken of me say­ing this is the land that gave me op­por­tu­nity,” he said. “Why not give back?”

Stu­dents will be­gin classes in the 102,000-square-foot main med­i­cal school build­ing that was com­pleted in 13 months for $40 mil­lion.

Parker said plans are un­der­way to start con­struc­tion in the spring on a sec­ond build­ing, a 60,000-square­foot health sciences build­ing, us­ing a $14 mil­lion anony­mous gift.

Stu­dents will have the ad­van­tage of us­ing the lat­est in tech­nol­ogy and a physician kit worth $1,200, which was a gift from the De­gen Foun­da­tion, ac­cord­ing to board of trustees Chair­man John Taylor.

The De­gen Foun­da­tion is head­quar­tered at the col­lege and states its mis­sion as “pro­vid­ing for our re­gion’s health care needs by in­vest­ing in prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to­day with a vi­sion for to­mor­row.” The stu­dents se­lected from among the 3,800 ap­pli­cants from across the coun­try be­gan Mon­day morn­ing with reg­is­tra­tion. Stu­dents, col­lege of­fi­cials and vis­i­tors oc­cu­pied the atrium, munch­ing on pasties and drink­ing juice as elec­tronic posters on the walls counted down the fi­nal min­utes to the start for the class of 2021.

In­side the lec­ture hall, stu­dents sat in re­served seats and cheered as the fi­nal minute counted down on a large video screen.

Ratna Malkan, 22, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said she was ex­cited to be a part of the first class and that school was fi­nally start­ing. She said she in­ter­viewed at other med­i­cal schools but felt more wel­comed by the fac­ulty and staff in Fort Smith.

“I knew if I came here, it would be more per­sonal with them giv­ing me a greater ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “Also, the aca­demics looked great. It fit into my per­son­al­ity of how I wanted to study medicine.”

Taylor told the stu­dents the col­lege had its ori­gins in the his­tory of the Fort Smith com­mu­nity.

“The DNA, the life’s blood of this com­mu­nity that goes back 130 years, is in these walls to­day,” he said.

He said that in 1887 the Rev. Ge­orge De­gen of St. John’s Pres­by­te­rian Church col­lected $500 from mer­chants to rent a build­ing and hire a doc­tor to pro­vide med­i­cal care for the com­mu­nity. First called St. John’s Hos­pi­tal, the hos­pi­tal later be­came Sparks Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Eight years ago, Taylor said, the com­mu­nity-owned hos­pi­tal ran into fi­nan­cial trou­ble, which in­cluded out­stand­ing bonds and an un­der­funded pen­sion pro­gram.

Taylor and oth­ers who were on the hos­pi­tal board had two sets of lawyers, he said — one ready to file for bank­ruptcy if needed, and another to search for a buyer of the hos­pi­tal.

They found a buyer and sealed a deal that al­lowed them to pay off all the hos­pi­tal debts and come away with $60 mil­lion.

That money led to the birth of the De­gen Foun­da­tion, Taylor said, and the birth of the Arkansas Col­lege of Os­teo­pathic Medicine.

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