Medical school outlines initial campus plans

The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine's original campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA., plus campuses in South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. PHOTOS PROVIDED

The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine or VCOM hopes to have building plans approved this summer for a fall construction start on a future state-of-the-art medical training facility in leased quarters adjacent to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital.

But a full four-year medical school campus in Vero Beach is likely eight to 10 years off.

What VCOM hopes to do in the near term is establish a robust residency training program on the Treasure Coast with third- and fourth-year medical students from its other campuses doing clinical rotations here, and then begin training first and second year medical students here in partnership with Cleveland Clinic by 2027.

The top leadership of VCOM – which is headquartered at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg with campuses in Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina – provided a detailed timeline of its goals for a Vero medical school clinical campus to the Indian River County Hospital District which discussed them at a meeting last week.

For nearly a year, the hospital district has been talking to VCOM about setting up its local operations on a 5-acre property at 1110 35th Lane owned by the hospital district. The three-story, 19,000-square-foot building on the parcel dates back to the 1980s, and until recently housed the offices of VNA of the Treasure Coast.

Though VCOM would much prefer to purchase the property outright from the hospital district, district trustees want to make sure VCOM commits long-term to establishing not only a thriving residency program and clinical rotation training of upperclassmen, but also a full four-year medical school in Vero where students can train from start to finish – and hopefully remain and practice on the Treasure Coast.

As a result, the district and VCOM are negotiating terms by which VCOM would lease the building and vacant land, with execution of the lease expected sometime this spring.

The building needs significant renovations and upgrades, but could house classrooms, seminar rooms, high-tech mannequin patient simulations, study rooms, a resident lounge and an on-call sleep room for residents training at the hospital a brisk three-minute walk away – in short, an ideal location to house third-year and fourth-year medical students and residents.

By late 2026, VCOM hopes to increase the number of its medical students completing clinical rotations on the Treasure Coast from 40 to 160 students at Vero’s hospital as well as the three Cleveland Clinic hospitals in Stuart and Tradition.

“In order to achieve success, we strongly believe that the responsible approach would be to establish and ensure clinical rotation sites for third- and fourth-year students prior to the beginning the first two years of curriculum,” said VCOM President Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins and Dr. Matthew Cannon, who serves as academic dean over all of VCOM’s campuses and training programs.

Next steps for the hospital district trustees will be meeting with Cleveland Clinic officials to discuss the hospital’s role in the student clinical rotations and the planned residency program.

“We really need Cleveland Clinic’s involvement as well, so that’s where we are right now,” said Hospital District Executive Director Frank Isele. “I’ll be connecting with Cleveland Clinic and with Dr. Cannon to make sure all these pieces are in place.”

Chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham said she wants more details on VCOM’s plans for the St. Lucie and Martin County Cleveland Clinic hospitals.

Trustees and their legal counsel also need to flesh out what sort of deed restrictions they would want at the point that the hospital district sells the property to VCOM.

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