How Distance Programming Can Allow Medical Institutions to Serve New Markets

Co-Written with Mark Terrell | Assistant Dean of Medical Education, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and Tim Novak | Director of the Masters in Health Services Administration, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine

The EvoLLLution | How Distance Programming Can Allow Medical Institutions to Serve New Markets
Launching a suite of online programs allows medical institutions to create access to degree programs for medical professionals hoping to advance their careers and expand their roles.

Setting the Scene: LECOM’s Origins

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) was established as the 16th college of osteopathic medicine in the nation with its receipt of a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Charter in December 1992. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the LECOM School of Pharmacy in May 2001. As a leader in innovative medical education, the college has created student-centered curricula matching the learning skills of its students to the coursework. The medical college offers three distinctive pathways. The traditional Learning-Discussion Pathway provides a systems-based, classroom approach to medicine. The Problem-Based Learning Pathway emphasizes self-directed study in small groups using a team approach through faculty-facilitated, patient case-based study. Finally, we offer Directed Study, which allows students to learn on their own in a structured pre-clinical curriculum.

Additionally, LECOM is one of the few professional schools that offer three-year programs leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Doctor of Pharmacy Degrees. LECOM introduced the innovative, three-year curriculum for the Primary Care Scholars Pathway as a response to the declining interest in primary care, and particularly in family medicine. Seeing a demand from Physician Assistants for an affordable way to become physicians, LECOM added the three-year, Accelerated Physician Assistant Pathway. The School of Pharmacy, when it opened, was highly innovative in that it offered one of the few three-year accelerated curricula for the PharmD degree in the nation.

LECOM has continued its role in the vanguard of national leadership in osteopathic medicine by developing one of the first medical college branch campuses in the United States at Bradenton, Florida, and welcomed its first class of medical students on September 13, 2004. With the enrollment of the Bradenton Class of 2011, LECOM became the largest medical college in the nation. In 2007, the School of Pharmacy opened a branch campus in Florida, offering a traditional four-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree curriculum and graduating the first class from LECOM Bradenton in 2011. The vision of LECOM continued in 2009, with the extension of LECOM Erie to the campus of the private liberal arts institution of Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. LECOM at Seton Hill added an additional 104 medical students to the first-year class.

Creating Access for Working Professionls

Noting that many professionals cannot take time away from their careers to pursue additional degrees, LECOM initiated the Master of Science in Medical Education Degree Program at the Erie campus in 2005. This postgraduate course became the first distance education program at LECOM and it trains health professionals to become teachers and leaders in the clinical education of future health professionals.

Ever vigilant to marking innovative trends in education, LECOM added two Distance Education Pathways in 2014. The School of Pharmacy developed a Distance Education Pathway, which allows students to complete most of the curriculum from their home. The Pathway offers one of only two online, four-year distance education programs in the nation for pursuing the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. The first class of the Masters of Health Services Administration (MHSA) graduated in June 2015 and was delivered through a dynamic, on-line learning platform. It provided the knowledge, skills and experiences needed for professionals aspiring to take leadership roles in the administration of hospitals, clinical practices and in other health care facilities.

The Benefits of Online Programming for the Institution

There have been many rewards in the offering of distance education programs for LECOM. However, the five most significant benefits of these programs are:

1. Opportunity

LECOM strongly believes in offering education to those who deserve the opportunity. Distance education programs allow students who need a more flexible schedule to fulfill their educational aspirations.

2. Enrollment

Distance education courses allow for LECOM to educate more students without needing to expand on physical facilities.

3. Marketing

Enrolling students across the country enables LECOM to spread its name and presence to new areas. Students in the School of Pharmacy Distance Education Pathway complete experiential rotations in pharmacies near their homes. The students have a total of eight rotations throughout their four years, which allows the students to spread the name of LECOM throughout their communities.

4. Advanced Teaching Methods

The development of the distance education pathway has been coupled with faculty development that has focused on the use of technology, online pedagogy and communication. Much of what has been taught about DE pedagogy—especially active learning—can be and has been applied in traditional courses on campus as well.

5. Advanced Technology

The development of distance education courses has resulted in the purchase of several new technologies that allow for the programs to be more interactive. These programs have been used beyond the distance education pathways as a method of increasing interaction in and outside of the traditional classroom setting as well.


The founders of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine knew that their actions would inspire, their mission would bring purpose, and their commitment to a vision would result in a better tomorrow, not only for the generations of scholars who have crossed the threshold of a great institution, but also to the communities and to the larger world that they will serve in the calling of a lifetime.

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