November 1, 2003

The vision of the young medical school in Fort Worth maturing into a health science center started long before the summer of 1993. But it was during that busy summer 10 years ago that the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine officially became a part of the newly established University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

That summer bore witness to the culmination of years of planning and preparation. During its 1993 session, the Texas Legislature redesignated TCOM as UNT Health Science Center, and Governor Ann Richards signed the bill into law. The institution had to add an additional component to qualify as a health science center, and the establishment of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in late August made it official. TCOM became the cornerstone of the new institution.

The new designation signaled the start of a new and exciting era for the institution and broadened the range of options for developing new programs.

â??This is a significant and exciting time in TCOMâ??s history,â? said then President David Richards, DO. â??TCOM is developing into a health science center at a time when the challenges facing our countryâ??s health care system have never been greater.â?

Dr. Richards was one of several TCOM leaders who shared the vision for a health science center.

Carl Everett, DO, one of TCOMâ??s founders, said, â??I would never have dreamed that we would make this much progress in a little more than 20 years. This is such a major step in TCOMâ??s development.â?The late George Luibel, DO, a fellow founder, shared that sentiment. â??The designation will help TCOM receive additional recognition throughout the country.â?

Bobby Carter, MLS, assistant vice president for information resources and a 25-year employee, remembers how former president Ralph Willard, DO, encouraged him to expand the library from one with only a clinical collection to one with a research mission. â??The library had to expand its services and develop a collection to meet the growing needs of a new type of institution,â? he said.

The most significant change to the institution was the addition of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.The new graduate school was formed as the result of a formal transfer of the Department of Biomedical Sciences from the University of North Texas in Denton. UNT and TCOM faculty had collaborated since the early 1970s to teach basic science courses to medical students and train students earning masterâ??s or doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences, biology or biochemistry.

By 1992, the TCOM faculty was training more than 70 graduate and doctoral students. These students received nearly all their training at the Fort Worth campus from TCOM faculty while officially earning their degrees from UNT.

â??When the graduate school was being created, we had to convince UNT to transfer some of its science programs to our institution and allow us to incorporate them into our biomedical sciences programs,â? said Thomas Yorio, PhD, GSBS dean. Dr. Yorio joined the TCOM faculty in 1977 and was selected to lead the new graduate school in 1993.

â??We believed that to continue to grow as an institution, it was important to become a health science center and to add new programs that the community and state needed,â? Dr. Yorio said.

The Association of Academic Health Centers defines a health science center as an educational institution with a university medical school and at least one other health education program. â??Health science centers are sometimes called â??medical school plusâ?? since they are required by definition to offer more than medical degrees,â? said Ronald Blanck, DO, health science center president.

TCOMâ??s transformation into a health science center mirrored national trends in medical education at the time. By the 1990s, medical education had become dominated by academic medical centers; more than 80 percent of medical schools were linked to such institutions in 1993. As a result of these changes, many of the remaining stand-alone medical schools went through the same process TCOM did, said Greg McQueen, PhD, senior vice president for academic and health affairs.

â??The organizational structure of a health science center became a prerequisite to accomplishing our mission of education, research and patient care,â? Dr. McQueen said.TCOM could better ensure its long-term viability as a health science center because stand-alone medical schools faced significant challenges competing with health science centers for research and training grants, faculty, and students, he explained.

All of the health science centers in Texas and most of the ones in the United States are now closely tied to a university, which adds to the resources and prestige of both types of institutions.

Being redesignated as a health science center was much more than a simple name change; it expanded the mission of the institution and laid the groundwork for todayâ??s accomplishments, Dr. McQueen said.In 1993, Dr. Richards described the designation as an evolution. â??Becoming a health science center sets the stage for us to move forward,â? he said.

When compared with stand-alone counterparts, health science centers can propel the medical school and each of their other components to new levels of quality in carrying out their mission by combining the resources of several health professions to address the complex health issues facing todayâ??s society, Dr. Blanck said.â??Being a health science center promotes growth among all programs,â? he said. â??It creates a synergy that uses what each program offers and leverages it to become a greater whole.â?

Becoming a full health science center marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented growth, which included the addition of the School of Public Health and the Physician Assistant Studies Program. Enrollment has doubled to more than 1,000 students, and annual research funding has nearly tripled; it now totals nearly $17 million, up from $6 million in 1993.

In fact, the health science center leads all health-related institutions in Texas in enrollment growth, according to recent statistics from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Overall, the institution boasted 38 percent growth from 2001 to 2003, while the statewide average was 10 percent.

â??The highest percentage of growth came from the programs formed since we became a health science center,â? Dr. McQueen said.

As the health science center enters its second decade, it is poised to continue this upward trend, with record enrollment, ever-increasing research funding and nationally recognized programs, Dr. Blanck said.â??Our programs are set to grow in different ways,â? he said. â??Existing programs will expand, new programs will be developed, and the success of one area fosters new achievements in another.

â??Being a health science center allows us to tap into the full spectrum of health-related activities,â? Dr. Blanck said. â??Everything we do fits together and is linked to our core competencies. Our challenge is to focus on our strengths and maintain a tight focus on our mission.â?


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