New Greenville medical school graduates its first class this week

The University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, a unique partnership between USC and Greenville Health System, will graduate its inaugural class on May 6.

“This achievement fulfills a promise the University of South Carolina and Greenville Health System made six years ago to build an innovative medical school in upstate South Carolina to provide exceptional training for new physicians who will transform health care within our communities,” said Jerry R. Youkey, M.D., founding dean of the USC School of Medicine Greenville.

“We are grateful to the many people from around our state who offered support, guidance and leadership to make this milestone event possible,” said Youkey.

Forty-nine students will graduate as part of the first class of the nation’s 136th medical school. Convocation will be held Thursday in Greenville at Furman’s McAlister Auditorium, and graduation will occur Friday with its sister school, the University of South Carolina, in Columbia at the Koger Center.

The Greenville medical school welcomed its charter class in July 2012. Using the phrase “a new school of thought” to guide development, the medical school has created a one-of-a-kind education to train physicians ready to participate and lead in a transformed healthcare delivery system in S.C. and the nation. Some of its curricular changes have already contributed to national conversations about proposed changes in medical school education.

More than 70 percent of USC School of Medicine Greenville students are from South Carolina and almost half of this first class have chosen to continue their medical training in the Palmetto State. In addition, many of those who matched to out-of-state residency programs have said they want to return and practice in S.C. after finishing their training.

“Our program has allowed S.C. to recruit, matriculate, and retain gifted and talented students with an interest in serving the unique needs of our communities as physician leaders focused on encouraging and promoting wellness – not just on treating disease,” said Youkey.

Approximately 50 percent of this first class plan to specialize in primary care and become family doctors, internists and pediatricians – considered the bedrock of the healthcare system and expected to hit critical shortage levels within the next 5-15 years.

“GHS has been committed to providing medical education for more than a century, and we are grateful to the University of South Carolina for sharing our commitment to training the future physician workforce,” said Michael Riordan, president and CEO, Greenville Health System. “We appreciate the accomplishments of Dean Youkey and the USC School of Medicine Greenville faculty and staff, which includes 800 GHS physician faculty members.”

“This inaugural commencement is a measure of the excellence of our faculty, staff and students,” said Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina. “This achievement is truly a point of pride for our university, our partner GHS and the state of South Carolina.”

After years of rigorous but routine evaluation, the USC School of Medicine Greenville received final accreditation from the national Liaison Committee on Medical Education in February 2016. Last month, its first Match Day resulted in 100 percent residency placement; historically, only 94 percent of U.S. medical school graduates match successfully on the first try, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Likewise, USC School of Medicine Greenville students passed the national board of medical examiners step examinations at a higher rate than the national average.

“Our students – and now I’m proud to say ‘our graduates’ – are among the best and brightest in the nation and chose to come to a fledgling medical school because they were interested in being pioneers with the rare opportunity to help create a modern medical school,” said Youkey.

The new school has already pioneered changes, including launching a national movement to integrate lifestyle medicine into all medical curricula by formally teaching the importance of exercise and nutrition in prevention, disease treatment and management of chronic illness. “It’s not enough to cure disease – if we can, we need to prevent it from ever happening by giving our physicians different tools and techniques than those available to previous generations,” said Youkey.

Likewise, the Greenville students start their patient and clinical experience during their first weeks as students, instead of in the traditional third and fourth years of medical school, allowing them to become exceptionally skilled in patient interaction. That interaction starts with students riding with Greenville County EMS as its rescue vehicles  respond to emergency calls; the medical school is the first in the nation to require its students to achieve Emergency Medicine Technician certification, giving its students unparalleled insight into providing medical care under real-world conditions. Through year-end disaster drills, students practice with first-responder agencies, likewise gaining a deeper knowledge base that they’ll take with them to their own future communities.

Approximately 290 students are now enrolled in the four Greenville medical school classes, with more than 4,100 people applying for the 100 open positions in its upcoming class.

Scholarship support is critical to recruit, matriculate and retain the most competitive of applicants, said Youkey. So far, the USC Office of Philanthropy has raised $1.6 million, and the GHS Office of Philanthropy & Partnership has raised nearly $7 million in philanthropic support for scholarships and awards for USC School of Medicine Greenville students.

“Generous community support has been vital in bringing us to where we are today – the graduation of the first class of USC School of Medicine Greenville. Our hope is that we will be able to establish a $50 million endowment to ensure the scholarship needs of the school in perpetuity. Until then, ongoing support is crucial for us to be able to continue to attract and educate outstanding physicians uniquely trained to partner with our communities, provide for their needs and optimize the health and well-being of our children and our grandchildren,” said Youkey.

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