The New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) at Arkansas State University (A-State) graduated its inaugural class through a virtual commencement on May 21. The class neared 100 students, as some of the 115-person inaugural class opted to stay an additional year to earn a master’s degree.
Originally, commencement would have consisted of the traditional receiving of doctoral hoods, a milestone in a medical student’s journey. However, the NYITCOM at A-State encouraged graduates to submit pictures of themselves in their regalia and film messages thanking their family, friends and professors. These pictures and videos were then compiled into the graduation ceremony Thursday evening and put on display when the student’s name was called.
“Being the first osteopathic medical school in the state of Arkansas, we were so excited about having graduation,” Dr. Shane Speights, dean of NYITCOM at A-State, told Arkansas Money & Politics. “We’d been planning for so long. Obviously, as the pandemic hit it became clear that we were going to have to adjust our plans. It was heartbreaking – not only for the students but for the faculty and staff who had worked so diligently to get the students up to this point.
“However, we recognize how momentous of an occasion it still is, despite the fact it was virtual,” he said.
The ceremony included congratulations from Jerry Balentine, D.O., dean of NYITCOM and New York Institute of Technology vice president for health sciences and medical affairs. Balentine urged the class to realize how extraordinary it is to graduate from medical school in such a time as an international pandemic. In addition, Gov. Asa Hutchinson provided remarks to the graduates, encouraging them to use their degrees to answer the health care needs in Arkansas.
The program, which launched in 2016, has an accredited 115 spots per year, all of which are chosen from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants each application season. This first graduating class underwent residency matching, coming out with a 95 percent match rate. Of NYITCOM at A-State students who participated in the 2020 Match, 72 percent were placed into primary care programs, including 36 percent in family medicine, 27 percent in internal medicine and eight percent in pediatrics.
“This is better than the national average,” Speights said. “The national average for medical school is around 90 percent. We are very happy for these young men and women, and we are happy that a large number of them are going into general specialties – family medicine, general pediatrics, general medicine.”
Like Hutchinson said in his address to the graduating class, Speights noted that during their schooling, these students were taught the importance and need for practicing medicine where they are needed – Arkansas especially.
“This school was founded with the mission to address the health disparity in this region of the country, specifically Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta region,” Speights said. “We’re just ecstatic to see that we’re continuing to move forward attaining that goal of making the difference in the lives of the men and women who live here.”
The NYITCOM at A-State intends to celebrate the inaugural class of 2020 again next May.
“We plan to have two graduations next year – one for the class of 2021 and one for the class of 2020,” Speights said. “This will let us celebrate this time right, letting them experience walking across the stage and shaking our hand. They can get back together with each other and celebrate how we were supposed to this year.”