August 9, 2013

‘A response to faith’

Medical school at Marian University is a first for Catholic college

A stunning relief sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi caring for a leper represents the combination of faith and health care that will drive the new College of Osteopathic Medicine at Marian University in Indianapolis that starts its first day of classes on Aug. 12. Dr. Paul Evans, left, dean of the medical school, and Daniel Elsener, president of the university, pose in front of the relief sculpture. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

A stunning relief sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi caring for a leper represents the combination of faith and health care that will drive the new College of Osteopathic Medicine at Marian University in Indianapolis that starts its first day of classes on Aug. 12. Dr. Paul Evans, left, dean of the medical school, and Daniel Elsener, president of the university, pose in front of the relief sculpture. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Some people called it a “leap of faith” when Marian University in Indianapolis announced its plan to be the first Catholic college in the country to have a school of osteopathic medicine.

Yet, Marian’s President Daniel Elsener prefers to use a different phrase as the university’s first group of 162 medical students gets ready for the historic first day of classes on Aug. 12.

“It’s a response to faith, a response to a call,” Elsener said as he sat in the sparkling, $48 million, state-of-the-art Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences that is now the home of the university’s longtime nursing program and the second medical school in Indiana.

“Prayer is a big part of our mission here,” Elsener continued. “If you keep reflecting on that personally and what you’re supposed to do, it evolves and becomes clear. It was very clear to me that the healing, the teaching, the prayer and the process of creating leaders are our call. Then you start to think about the needs within that call.”

The need that Elsener saw when he envisioned a medical school at Marian developed from studies that showed there could be a shortage of 2,000 primary care physicians in Indiana alone by 2020 if more doctors weren’t trained.

“So the need and our ability to respond matched up nicely,” Elsener noted. “We want to be a great Catholic university in a great American city for service to the world. To do that without resources is a pipe dream. So we say that if we want to be a great Catholic university, we have to have great resources, starting with a medical school. Sometimes, you have to lead with your chin.”

The connection with osteopathic medicine is also a natural one for Marian because it treats the whole person—body, mind and spirit—according to Elsener. Another reason for the link with osteopathic medicine is that doctors trained in that approach are twice as likely as their colleagues who graduate from medical schools with M.D.’s to be primary care physicians.

“Out of those primary care doctors, about twice as many go into rural and underserved communities as our M.D. colleagues do,” said Dr. Paul Evans, dean of Marian’s medical school. “So we think that will really increase the availability of medical care in the state.”

Seeking to achieve that goal, the medical school will also strive to keep its focus on the Catholic, Franciscan tradition that has guided the college since it was founded by the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg in 1936.

That emphasis is evident from the hiring of a medical ethicist to train students, to the inclusion of a chapel within the medical education building, a chapel whose black walnut features come from the trees that were cut down to make room for the facility.

Still, the most striking symbol of the connection between faith and health care within the education center is featured in a huge relief sculpture, outside the chapel, that depicts St. Francis of Assisi caring for a leper.

Elsener stopped to showcase the sculpture during a tour of the facility.

“At the top, you see a ray of sun, illumined as a light of faith,” Elsener said, pointing out the feature. “We want it to be a top tier medical school and a top tier nursing school. To do that, you have to have a great faculty, you have to have great students, and you have to have a great facility. But it’s all illumined by the light of faith.”

That light of faith has guided Elsener in the 10 years since he first envisioned Marian having a medical school.

“It’s constant prayer,” he said. “That zeal and determination that the Holy Spirit gives you, you make sure that the first time you hit a roadblock that you don’t go walking away from it.”

With a goal of $150 million to fund the facility and the medical school, $100 million has been pledged or collected so far.

Elsener saluted the contributions of a number of people and institutions, specifically citing St. Vincent Health, Community Health and Michael A. Evans, founder and chief executive officer of AIT Laboratories in Indianapolis who has pledged $48 million to the effort.

“I can’t tell you how many of our givers have given sacrificial gifts,” Elsener said. “I thank them, and they stop me and say, ‘This has been one of the great joys of my life to be part of a project like this. I thank you.’ ”

Marian’s president also hopes the Catholic community will take a sense of pride in how the university is striving to “be more dynamically and thoroughly involved in this healing ministry.”

Returning to the connection between faith and healing, he presented a challenge to the students and faculty who will start a new course for the university on Aug. 12.

“It’s going to be quite a challenge for the professors and the students to create a doctor,” Elsener said. “What’s the great gift we have? It’s to integrate faith into how we think about the human person, how we think about our gifts and talents, how we’re supposed to share them.

“In the Bible, all the people that were healed, it was really about this—they had faith. They had faith in a larger purpose.”

(For more information on Marian University’s medical school, log on to www.marian.edu/osteopathic-medical-school.)


Five fun facts about Marian University’s new College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis

  • More than 3,350 people applied for the first class of students, which totals 162.
  • The new medical school is the first to open in Indiana in more than a century.
  • Marian is the only Catholic university to have a school of osteopathic medicine.
  • The inaugural class includes 86 Indiana residents and three graduates of Marian University in Indianapolis.
  • The inaugural class is 51 percent male and 49 percent female.

Source: Marian University in Indianapolis

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