The new medical school, based in Horizon West, began accepting students Thursday for its first class.
The Orlando College of Osteopathic Medicine (OCOM) is still under construction off of State Road 429 and Schofield Road, but Thursday morning, its application portal opened for the first class of medical students to apply to train to become physicians next fall at the 25-acre Horizon West campus.
The medical school was awaiting pre-accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, which it received about two weeks ago. With that, it is now able to accept 90 to 97 students for its inaugural class. Subsequent classes will eventually grow to 180 as the school matures, Robert Hasty, DO, the medical school’s dean and chief academic officer, told VoxPopuli during a hard-hat tour of the 125,000 square foot facility. (Hasty is also a VoxPopuli advisory board member.)`
When it opens, OCOM will be the third osteopathic medical school in Florida. There’s also Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton.
Osteopathic medical training is virtually identical to allopathic, or traditional, medical training although the osteopathic medical philosophy takes a “whole patient” view of illness, with an emphasis on preventive care, rather than a “symptom specific” view. Osteopathic physicians also receive approximately 100 additional hours of training in the body’s musculoskeletal system to understand how injury or disease in one area of the body may affect another. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatments become one more tool in the physician’s proverbial medical bag.
The new medical school — and the next-door apartment complex where medical students will receive discounted rental rates — is being underwritten by retired Tampa Bay cardiologist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran C. Patel for approximately $75 million. Patel, along with his wife, the pediatrician Pallavi Patel, has also given $80 million to Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine.
They decided to situate OCOM in Central Florida “because the demand for physicians and the demand for another medical school here was the highest of what we saw in the entire state,” Hasty said.
Horizon West was chosen from 10 potential sites in the Orlando region because “it had everything for us,” Hasty said. “Incredible location, great place to live, it had safety, great support from Orange County. And we just fell in love with the campus too. It’s a beautiful area, beautiful property, and everything just kinda felt right for us.”
Hasty anticipates the building will be completed within the next 80 days with move-in slated for January. An official ribbon-cutting is planned for mid-March.
Situated on a 30-foot rise, the three-story building, a tilt up-wall structure with multiple walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, was designed by Baker Barrios chief creative officer Wayne Dunkelberger.
The windows allow plenty of natural light, gorgeous views to the east and west — and an extra perk unique to West Orange County.
“As far as I can tell, we’re the only medical school that has fireworks every single night because we’re only about three to four miles from the Magic Kingdom,” Hasty says.
And in a state where the governor has stripped public universities of diversity, equity and inclusion departments, funding and and initiatives, OCOM, as a private institution, is leaning hard into diversity to build its student body, faculty and administration.
"One of our values is diversity," Hasty says. "We feel our differences make us stronger." OCOM has a diversity officer and already established alliances with five historically Black colleges and universities and schools with majority underrepresented minority populations. "We hire the best, and part of that is not having any biases to who we hire or accept as students, and with that we've gotten an incredible team and a very diverse team."
OCOM itself will be completely tech-driven. It will be an “fully implemented Apple campus” with students receiving iPad Pros as part of their admission package. (Faculty will work on MacBook Airs).
Rather than utilizing cadavers for anatomy lessons as med school students of yore did, OCOM students will dissect virtual cadavers using those iPads and Apple Vision Pro.
“Virtual anatomy has really taken off in the last few years, especially accelerated by covid,” Hasty explained. “The data shows you have at least as good outcome if not better with a virtual anatomy curriculum as opposed to a cadaveric curriculum.”
Students will also practice patient care on human patient simulator mannequins that can talk, breathe, bleed, vomit and exhibit other symptoms that physicians are likely to encounter. Just one of these mannequins costs $250,000 — more than some houses.
“I don’t think you could run a medical school without them nowadays,” Hasty says. “We’re going to train much safer physicians as a result, and this technology really enables us to do so.”
Robert Hasty talks about the school's level 2 biosafety research lab, inspired by the Land at Epcot, for faculty and student research.
Training safer physicians is why OCOM included a spacious fitness center on the ground floor, complete with cardio machines and weights, and an area for yoga. Hasty fully expects the fitness center to be busy. The campus also has walking paths. The apartment complex next door has its own fitness center with a swimming pool. The school will also employ a mental health counselor 24/7.
“That’s what we want, right? To promote the wellness of our students, both their physical health as well as their psychological health,” he says.
It’s also why the school, bucking tradition, will not be a 24-hour facility. Instead, Hasty says, it will be open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“We want to encourage students to go home and get a good night’s rest. There’s a lot of data that supports if you have good sleep cycles and you’re well rested, you’ll perform better from an academic standpoint. That’s really important to us.”