A BOLD STEP
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A 2009 trip to Mississippi inspired Campbell President Jerry Wallace to move on establishing North Carolina’s first medical school in 35 years; but the idea was planted much, much earlier ...
BY BILLY LIGGETT
Jerry Wallace had already made up his mind.
There was no way little William Carey University — a Baptist school half the size of Campbell, tucked away in the center of Mississippi — could afford to launch a medical school. Especially in 2009, when the country was still trying to crawl out of the Great Recession.
Yet there Wallace was, part of a team tasked by the Southern Association of College and Schools to review William Carey’s application to launch a school of osteopathic medicine, a term (“osteopathic”) Wallace had limited knowledge of.
Fast forward four years — a mere four years — to early June 2013, just 60 days before Wallace and Campbell University will greet its own class of 162 osteopathic students to North Carolina’s second-largest medical school and the first in the state in 35 years. A fixed smile on his face, Wallace leans back in the couch in his office’s adjoining meeting room as he recalls that trip to Mississippi … the trip that inspired Campbell’s boldest move since the establishment of its pharmacy school in the 1980s.
The smile is there because Wallace admits he was biased about William Carey’s chances at accreditation and, ultimately, very wrong.
“When I left Mississippi, it was clear to me they could launch that school,” Wallace says. “And they’d be successful in doing it.”
‘SO AWESOME OF AN UNDERTAKING’
Long before he visited Mississippi and discovered that spending millions on a hospital to support a medical school is the old way of doing things — and long before he first picked up the study by the N.C. Institute of Medicine that warned of a massive shortage of physicians in the next 10 years — Jerry Wallace was asked to head a feasibility study on whether Campbell could and should launch a physician assistant program and a nursing school.
The year was 1981, and at the time, Wallace was the new dean of Campbell’s College of Arts & Sciences. Then-President Norman A. Wiggins had successfully created a law school five years prior, and he knew Wallace had an interest in starting a PA program (his daughter graduated from Wake Forest’s program that same year).
Despite what seemed like serendipity, Wallace concluded that Campbell wasn’t ready for either program just yet. Around that time, however, he visited the Southern School of Pharmacy at Mercer University in Atlanta to talk to its dean about Campbell’s interest in a pharmacy school.
“I met with the dean and asked him, ‘Is there a need for a new pharmacy school,’” Wallace recalls, noting the fact that the U.S. had not seen a new pharmacy school in nearly 35 years. “And he said, ‘Definitely yes. But they’ll all tell you no.’ … And that’s exactly what happened.”
In 1986, Campbell University defied the odds and turned a deaf ear to its critics and launched a pharmacy school. The school’s founding dean was Dr. Ronald Maddox, chairman of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and two time “professor of the year” at … you guessed it … Mercer University.
Today, Maddox is still dean of Campbell’s esteemed College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences and in 2010 was named the school’s vice president of health programs. Wallace says Maddox was instrumental in the University’s efforts to launch a medical school.
In 2011, Campbell began the physician assistant program it once considered 30 years earlier. This fall, the medical school will welcome its first class of 162 students in a new 96,500-square-foot facility just a quarter-mile from Campbell’s 126-year-old Buies Creek campus. And earlier this spring, the school announced its efforts to earn accreditation for a new four-year nursing program.
“It’s interesting how it all comes full circle,” Wallace beamed on June 3, 2013, the day he welcomed the first class of PA students as the first inhabitants of the new medical school facility, the Leon Levine Hall of Medical Sciences. “I believe strongly there is a religious foundation in all of this. Without a doubt in my mind, this is a God-achieved event. It could not be otherwise, because it was so awesome of an undertaking and has been so wonderfully fulfilled.”
SETTING THE STAGE
If the pharmacy school paved the road for the opening of Campbell’s medical school, its law school — which opened 10 years earlier in 1976 — beat the path.
While news of the school of osteopathic medicine has been met with optimism and positive press from state and national media outlets, that wasn’t the case for its predecessors. The Raleigh News & Observer, which had previously questioned Campbell’s law school, came out against the pharmacy school in 1985, writing, “Not all private schools are as expansionist as Campbell, which opened a law school in a state overrun with lawyers.” The Wilmington Star and UNC-Chapel Hill’s pharmacy school dean were also publicly critical of Campbell at the time, fearing the new pharmacy school would cut into public school funds and enrollment.
The law school immediately set out to prove its critics wrong with an inaugural class of 97 students who matched the larger schools’ performance on the North Carolina Bar Exam and would go on to pass their peers consistently, hitting a 100-percent passage rate for the first time in state history in 1994. Campbell became the only law school in the state capital when it moved to Raleigh in 2009.
The pharmacy school also excelled. After becoming the nation’s first pharmacy school in 35 years in 1986, the inaugural Class of 1990 had a 100-percent passage rate on the national pharmacy board exam, and the school has since maintained a 98-percent passage rate.
“The pharmacy school, in particular, has brought Campbell hundreds of new undergrads who’ve come here because they wanted to study to enter our pharmacy program,” said Britt Davis, Campbell’s Vice President of Admissions and Advancement. “It’s strengthened our undergraduate science base and has expanded our clinical research and ultimately led to our physician assistant program and now the medical school.
“No doubt about it, law and pharmacy have helped set the stage to open the med school. All of this has been years in the making.”
And now, the media is embracing Campbell’s medical school with open arms.
“Many of us are fond of raising a toast to good health,” wrote the Fayetteville Observer in December 2011.
“Up the road at Campbell University, they've hoisted the cup in the biggest way imaginable — breaking ground for a medical school that will change this state's health in ways more profound than any toast can induce.”