JONESBORO, AR – For the first time in the state’s 184-year history, a medical student has earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree in Arkansas.
New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University, which became the first osteopathic medical school in the state when it opened its doors in 2016, celebrated the commencement and hooding of its inaugural class in a virtual ceremony held Thursday afternoon.
Shane Speights, D.O., campus dean of NYITCOM at A-State, noted that the Class of 2020 entered medical school under unique circumstances as the first class of a new campus and they completed their medical degree in unprecedented times, citing the global health crisis that forced the ceremony to be held virtually.
“Knowing this class, I have no doubt that they will be successful and continue to impress us as they join the medical profession in these uncertain times,” Speights said. “I am confident that this very special class is ready, willing, and able to meet the challenges that face them in the next several years.”
Graduates are traditionally called to the stage to receive their doctoral hoods, but given the virtual nature of this year’s event, they were instead encouraged to submit photos of themselves wearing their regalia, along with a message thanking the friends and family who supported them throughout their rigorous medical school journey. With each name called, the student’s photo and “thank you” displayed, culminating in a poignant exhibition of gratitude.
“While it’s disappointing that we weren’t able to celebrate together, we understand the circumstances and enjoyed celebrating with our families,” said Hallie Frederick, a Jonesboro native and member of the NYITCOM at A-State Class of 2020. “With the virtual format, we’ll be able to come back 10 years from now and watch our graduation, which is special to have.”
As Jerry Balentine, D.O., dean of NYITCOM and New York Institute of Technology vice president for health sciences and medical affairs, congratulated the class, he noted how extraordinary it is to graduate from medical school at a time when the world is desperate for those who study disease and practice healing.
“This generation of physicians, your class, our first class in Arkansas, is entering a medical environment that you could not have imagined when you applied to medical school,” Balentine said. “The good news is that you are well prepared to become part of the medical teams that will continue to fight and ultimately defeat this virus.”
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson was among those who delivered prerecorded messages to the graduates. He thanked and congratulated those who worked tirelessly to make the vision of NYITCOM at Arkansas State a reality, including New York Institute of Technology President Hank Foley, Ph.D., Balentine, Speights, NYITCOM at A-State Founding Dean Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., and Arkansas State University President Charles Welch, Ph.D. The governor concluded by reminding the graduates of NYITCOM at A-State’s mission and the opportunity they have to continue to fulfill it.
“The health care needs in our state are significant, and NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State is diligently working to address many of those issues in a variety of ways,” Hutchinson said. “Graduates, it starts with you. Your medical school was founded with a direct mission of training physicians in this region, for this region. We need you here, and I hope each one of you will consider practicing in Arkansas upon completion of your residency.”
As reflected in Hutchinson’s comments, Thursday’s ceremony served the dual purpose of celebrating the commencement of the inaugural class as well as the achievements of those who vigorously worked to see the medical school come to fruition.
In 2013, Arkansas State University announced its plans to conduct a feasibility study for the opening of an osteopathic medical school in Jonesboro. NYITCOM, based in Old Westbury, N.Y., was selected as a partner school for the effort and the partnership was approved by the ASU System Board of Trustees in February 2014. New York Institute of Technology received approval from the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation in December 2015 to open an additional accredited site in Jonesboro, which launched in August 2016.
“NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine answered the call when Arkansas State University asked for a partner to help train future physicians,” Speights said. “We shared with Arkansas State the hope of increasing the number of outstanding medical professionals for the state of Arkansas and the Delta region. I am so very proud that in four short years we have been able to accomplish so much.”