History in the Making: A Three Decade Journey

It was a time before smartphones, hoverboards, and the Xbox.  There was no Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; no Uber, Airbnb, or DoorDash.  But there was the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM).

The mission of providing excellence in medical education began as do all great enterprises – with a need answered by a visionary solution.

As the 20th Century drew to a close, those in governance of Millcreek Community Hospital (MCH) in Erie, Pennsylvania, were faced with a problematic decision.  In an era during which it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract new physicians to the calling, this small community hospital sought to maintain its position of leadership within the field of health care.  The dilemma was dissected by the group of visionaries at MCH who, through their astute prescience and vigilant observations, made a decision to open a new school of medicine.

At a time during which much of the medical community did not see a need for additional medical colleges, much less the need for physicians, the MCH Board saw it differently.  The hospital existed in an area within close proximity to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo; an area underserved by physicians.  The establishment of a medical college in Erie had the intended effect of allowing the hospital to train needed new doctors and to accommodate the open positions at MCH and at other hospitals throughout the region.

The journey began in September 1988, when the Board of Trustees of Millcreek Community Hospital conducted a major strategic planning retreat.  Attendees at the planning session established a new hospital mission that emphasized the need for educating osteopathic physicians to provide medical services to the medically underserved areas across Northwestern Pennsylvania.

In March 1989, the Board of Trustees assembled an Osteopathic Medical School Task Force that began to explore the feasibility of founding a new osteopathic medical school.  The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine 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 Charter Class began on August 9, 1993 at a new campus on West Grandview Boulevard in Erie, Pennsylvania.

With the graduation of the LECOM inaugural class on May 24, 1997, the College received full accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association. Since that time, LECOM has granted the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) Degree to more than 9200 graduates.

For almost three decades, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine has realized its foundational promise under the skillful and steady direction of its President and CEO, John M. Ferretti, D.O., who has established, expanded, and advanced the LECOM mission.

Dr. Ferretti is a Board Certified Internist who was among the College founders and who is a nationally recognized leader in osteopathic medicine.  Dr. Ferretti’s visionary leadership of the whole of the Institution has ushered in an era of national prominence and unprecedented growth.

In 2000, within a period of only eight years after its founding, LECOM experienced an intensity of rapid growth as a small group of first-year medical students arrived as pioneers in a new Learning Pathway.  LECOM would be the first of its kind to introduce an effectively innovative approach to medical education, Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  By working in small groups through a paradigm of self-directed study, PBL students are tasked to think clinically and to solve problems in the same way in which a physician diagnoses a patient.

By 2002, College growth and enrollment required LECOM to triple the size of the original medical school building, adding another 100,000 square feet of modern teaching, learning and research facilities.  With the acquisition of the neighboring LORD Corporation (now LECOM West) property in 2011, the College is now expansively situated along West Grandview Boulevard where a park-like, 53-acre campus boasts an excellent view of Lake Erie.

A continually growing medical and wellness campus also stretches along Peach Street in Erie as the College and community engage in the whole-body wellness paradigm that has become LECOM Health, the only health system in the United States with an Osteopathic Academic Health Center.  The College, Millcreek Community Hospital, and Medical Associates of Erie – the clinical practice network of physician offices located in Erie County – form the core of this highly innovative medical education and patient care system.

True to the College mission, to provide primary health care to Northwestern Pennsylvania, LECOM achieved another milestone with the addition of its School of Pharmacy.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the LECOM School of Pharmacy in May of 2001 with its unique three-year, accelerated curriculum.  Classes began in September of 2002, and LECOM held its first pharmacy school graduation in June of 2005.  Following that commencement, the LECOM School of Pharmacy received full accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.  Since that time, LECOM has granted the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree to more than 4000 graduates.

In addition to the original campus in Erie, Pennsylvania, LECOM has continued its role in the vanguard of national leadership in osteopathic medicine by developing a branch campus in Bradenton, Florida.  Located in the lush, palm-embowered setting of Lakewood Ranch, a master-planned community in Manatee County, Florida, LECOM Bradenton 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 also expanded to Florida, offering a traditional four-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree curriculum and graduating the first class from LECOM Bradenton in 2011.

In keeping with its proven tradition of leading the field in medical education, LECOM initiated the Masters 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 physicians to become teachers and leaders in the clinical education of future physicians. In addition to filling the need for teaching physicians, LECOM recognized the need for professors who could teach anatomy, one of the vital basic sciences required in medical education, so the College introduced a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Anatomy Education.

To further the education of potential medical, pharmacy, and dental school recruits, the College also offers the Masters of Science in Biomedical Sciences Degree, a Masters in Medical Science Degree, and the Health Sciences Post Baccalaureate Certificate.

Seeking to quickly and effectively fill the need for more physicians, LECOM added two accelerated programs in the medical college:  the Primary Care Scholars Pathway (in 2007), and the Accelerated Physicians Pathway (in 2011).  These Programs allow qualified students to complete the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Degree in just three years.

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, and now, it has an ever increasing medical school enrollment.

In July 2012, the LECOM School of Dental Medicine welcomed students in Bradenton, establishing yet a new era in the betterment of healthcare education.  The first class of dental students was graduated in 2016. These scholars undertook three years of academic and basic clinical training at LECOM Bradenton.  They completed their fourth year of study at community-based dental outreach offices in DeFuniak Springs, Florida and in Erie, Pennsylvania.  These sites were chosen, in part, because of the enduring LECOM commitment to provide care where it is most needed.

Ever vigilant to marking innovative trends in education, LECOM added two Distance Education Pathways in 2014.  The School of Pharmacy Distance Education Pathway is one of only a handful of online-distance education programs in the nation for pursuing the Doctor of Pharmacy Degree.  The online classes for the Masters in Health Services Administration have provided the highly sought after opportunity for professionals aspiring to take leadership roles in the administration of hospitals, clinical practices, and in other healthcare facilities.  Realizing that healthcare professionals are encountering cultural and social attitudes, values, and beliefs that may differ from their own personal perceptions, LECOM developed an online degree for the Master in Science Biomedical Ethics Degree.  This Program fills the need for healthcare workers and administrators who are better prepared to recognize and effectively handle the ethical complexities and dilemmas woven into modern medical practice.

Augmenting the noteworthy educational advancements, LECOM has been ever cognizant of its role in community enrichment, service, and the promulgation of health for all.  With the 2009 opening of the John M. and Silvia Ferretti Medical Fitness and Wellness Center, the College founded a medically integrated wellness center that not only serves the fitness and medical education needs of LECOM students and employees of LECOM Health, but one that also offers to the populace of Erie County an opportunity to pursue a better quality of life through prevention and wellness.

In 2015, as LECOM wholly recast the very paradigm in comprehensive patient-centered health care, the LECOM Institute for Successful Aging opened the 144-bed LECOM Senior Living Center adjacent to Millcreek Community Hospital.  The welcoming and homelike environment, coupled with a skilled nursing facility, is the next generation of innovative, compassionate, and comprehensive health care designed specifically for older adults.

Ever aware of changing community needs, LECOM recognized the disproportionately growing senior population in Erie County by adding a multifaceted component to its health care programs for older adults.  As part of the LECOM commitment to wellness for this growing age group, LECOM purchased Parkside Senior Living Communities consisting of three independent living and personal care apartment complexes, located in Erie, North East, and Millcreek, Pennsylvania.

The prodigious undertaking further solidifies LECOM as the seminal provider of a healthful and proactive amalgam of comprehensive services that afford older adults independent decision-making options throughout each part of the continuum of care.

Life is change; growth is optional.  In this area, LECOM always has chosen wisely.  Knowing the way in which to grow is just as important as knowing when to do so.

Thus, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine met the new year of 2016 with multiple acquisitions, including Corry Memorial Hospital, LECOM Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Erie County.  Growth continued in 2017, as LECOM Health (joined by Allegheny Health Network) became a partner with Warren General Hospital in Warren, Pennsylvania.

In September of 2018, LECOM announced the formation of the LECOM School of Health Services Administration (SHSA).  The school teaches the business of healthcare as it prepares future leaders to meet the evolving need for competent and well-trained administrators and providers.

In fact, LECOM offers six master’s degree programs.  In January of 2014, the College began its School of Graduate Studies with the Master in Health Services Administration (MHSA) Program to provide students with the knowledge and skills required to plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services while working as administrators in a hospital or other healthcare facilities, public healthcare organizations, and private practice groups.  The knowledge gained from the MHSA is essential for fiscal, planning and managerial work in healthcare organizations and the establishment and management of clinical practices.

The Master of Science in Medical Education (MSME) Program is designed for healthcare professionals interested in teaching at doctoral and the post-graduate medical education level.

The Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences (MSBS) is a two-year program designed for students interested in careers in medicine, pharmacy, and other health and science-related professions.  The Biomedical Sciences Program is intended for post baccalaureate students who wish to enhance their understanding of the biomedical sciences and who seek to improve their overall profile to advance further medical education.

The Master of Medical Science (MMS) Program is a one-year, non-thesis program introduced in 2016 that is designed to academically, scientifically, and professionally prepare students who are interested in careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and podiatry.

Public health issues in America have never been more key to community wellness.  In 2019, LECOM launched its Masters in Public Health (M.P.H.) Program with an American focus.

The Master of Science in Medical Cannabinoid Therapeutics (MS MCT) Degree Program followed in June of 2022 to address potential medical therapeutic applications of cannabis derivatives.

The beginning of all promising enterprises, undertakings, or accomplishments begins with an idea. With that idea usually follows a set of circumstances, which, in retrospect, appear to have forecast a prophetic outcome.

On July 15, 2019, the New York State Board of Regents approved the LECOM request to operate its Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program in Elmira, New York.  With this approval, LECOM welcomed 120 first-year medical students to its newest campus, LECOM at Elmira, in July of 2020.

An expansive, 49,000 square foot state-of-the-art academic building now houses LECOM on the Elmira College campus in Elmira, New York, where LECOM scholars are now trained in the medical excellence that defines a LECOM education.

The leadership at LECOM has held fast to the tenet that the great use of life must be spent for something that will outlast it.  Every LECOM endeavor has spoken to that noble end, and in every mission, enduring service and unyielding exceptionalism has been at its heart.

In August of 2019, officials with Corry Memorial Hospital (CMH), an affiliate of LECOM Health, celebrated the Grand Opening of the Corry Medical Arts Building.  The state-of-the-art facility is now the home of the Corry Rural Health Clinic, which offers offices for primary care and specialty physicians.  Residents of Corry, Pennsylvania now have access to expanded healthcare options allowing them to receive high-quality care in their own region.  The clinic offers a broad spectrum of services, including family medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, podiatry, urology, endocrinology, orthopedic surgery, OB-GYN, general surgery, and gastroenterology.

In September of 2019, LECOM Health opened an outpatient pharmacy on Peach Street and it acquired Colonial Family Pharmacy.  As of November of 2020, both pharmacies were branded as Colonial Family Pharmacy.  LECOM Health has extended its ever stalwart commitment to the Erie region by offering pharmacy services at two convenient Erie locations.  Colonial Family Pharmacy offers outpatient pharmacy services in the small-town, personalized, and friendly manner that customers have come to expect from community pharmacies.  Recommendations for the correct over-the-counter products for specific needs or conditions – including smoking cessation, pain management, diabetes, and high blood pressure – are backed by the knowledge and training that is the hallmark of the LECOM imprimatur.

In January of 2020, LECOM Health consolidated many of its mental health services.  With the opening of the LECOM Institute for Behavioral Health, outpatient psychiatric care and medication management became readily accessible from a team of nine psychiatrists, as well as from expert counselors and compassionate support staff.  An established leader in behavioral health care, LECOM Health began providing the needed services at Millcreek Community Hospital in 2001.

Already the third largest provider of inpatient behavioral health services in Pennsylvania and the largest in Northwest Pennsylvania for outpatient services, continuing enhancement and development of behavioral health services has been an ongoing theme at LECOM.

The LECOM Institute for Behavioral Health offers 101 psychiatric and inpatient detox beds at MCH; and recently, it has added a new, 10-bed residential psychiatric health facility for children and adolescents designed to assist youngsters between the ages of seven and seventeen who are navigating emotional difficulties.

Further augmenting the wide range of behavioral healthcare offerings at the Institute, the newly affiliated Achievement Center of LECOM Health provides quality therapeutic services to children and families throughout the region.  Achievement Center programs are designed to meet the unique needs of children and adolescents who are experiencing emotional, social, physical, or behavioral challenges.

Early in 2021, LECOM combined the resources of LECOM Health and Corry Counseling Services to further expand behavioral healthcare options, particularly in rural and underserved locales.  For more than four decades, Corry Counseling Services has assisted children and adults with mental and developmental disabilities throughout Erie, Warren, and Crawford Counties; now, as part of LECOM Health, the mission expands and strengthens.

Furthering its enduring pledge to the healthful improvement of underserved areas, LECOM opened the Union City Rural Health Clinic in June of 2020.

LECOM consistently broadens and deepens its educational objectives.  The College added the Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA) Program in July of 2020.

LECOM recognizes that leaders and professionals in the vanguard of healthcare bear a particular responsibility for improving patient-centered care.  In January of 2021 LECOM implemented the Master of Science in Nursing – Clinical Nurse Leader (MSN-CNL) Program to assure that the care provided is effective and responsive to individual patient needs.

LECOM Health opened its newest senior residential facility in November of 2020.  Parkside at Corry features 39 spacious and beautifully designed apartment homes.  Boasting a wide range of amenities and services, Parkside at Corry promotes an independent and healthful senior lifestyle.

The providing of superlative medical education remains at the core of all that is LECOM; and the ever-present attention to advancing student success underpins the 21st Century vision.

In July of 2021, LECOM purchased the former Porreco Center of Edinboro University utilizing the campus as a place for academic instruction and for student gatherings.  The newly named LECOM Education Center offers classrooms for the Problem Based Learning and Directed Study Programs, a spacious outdoor wellness and recreation area, and a more spacious and relocated Clinical Simulation Lab replete with  state-of-the-art equipment.  LECOM always has been on the cutting edge of healthcare education.  The addition of the 28-acre campus is a new venue for expanding educational programs in creative ways.

Late in 2022, LECOM Health purchased Independence Court, the assisted living facility, located on West Gore Road in Erie, adding to its already vast nexus of healthcare living options. The newly named Parkside at Glenwood offers enhanced personal care and a memory care unit.

The LECOM Institute for Successful Aging provides the most comprehensive care for older adults in the region, and the addition of Parkside at Glenwood affords LECOM Health the opportunity to serve even more residents in need of assisted living and memory care services.

LECOM Health recently purchased Elmwood Gardens, located on Elmwood Avenue in Erie.  The independent living and personal care communities are now known as “Parkside at Elmwood,” and the skilled nursing facility bears the moniker of “LECOM at Elmwood Gardens.”

With the addition of Parkside at Elmwood and LECOM at Elmwood Gardens, LECOM Health now has a total of ten senior living communities throughout northwest Pennsylvania: Parkside at Corry and Parkside at Westminster provide exclusively independent living, Parkside at Glenwood provides exclusively personal care, Parkside at North East and Parkside Regency at South Shore offer independent living and personal care apartments, and LECOM Nursing and Rehabilitation, LECOM Senior Living Center, and LECOM at Village Square provide skilled nursing services.

In keeping with the commitment that has defined that cutting-edge success, LECOM has opened a School of Podiatric Medicine (SPM).

The LECOM-SPM Erie (Pennsylvania) began accepting students in the fall semester of 2023.

The new LECOM-SPM is the eleventh podiatric medical school in the United States. The four-year program is established at the LECOM main campus in Erie, Pennsylvania; and it offers a curricular collaboration with the LECOM College of Osteopathic Medicine.

There is a growing need for podiatric doctors throughout the United States and LECOM is committed to meeting this national healthcare need through the creation of this new school, where scholars are uniquely positioned to provide podiatric students the opportunity to be trained alongside medical students and receive extensive clinical learning within its regional academic health system.

Podiatric students receive much of the same training as osteopathic medical students while also undertaking studies specific to the podiatric physician. This focused teaching opportunity better prepares graduates for entrance into podiatric residency programs.

In keeping with the character of LECOM of vision, determination, leadership, and a commitment to excellence, the College proudly announced yet another triumphant accomplishment.

On November 30, 2022, administrators and leaders from LECOM traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to announce plans for the first four-year medical school in the region – LECOM at Jacksonville University.

To this end, the College united in partnership with likeminded clinical education allies supported by long-term clinical agreements with preeminent healthcare providers.  LECOM expects to welcome an inaugural class of approximately 75 medical students to its Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) Program in 2026, with total enrollment growing to nearly 600 students within five years.

To support this expansion, LECOM plans to invest approximately $50 million to build its new education facility within the Jacksonville University Medical Mall, an expanding mixed-use healthcare plaza.  By 2030, the project will support more than 600 jobs and provide an estimated economic impact of $60 million per year.

The new school will hold aloft a magnificent vision that will develop and deliver the future of medicine and whole body health in Florida and far afield.

A recent undertaking within the LECOM Health nexus is the new Ambulatory Surgery Center, a facility that enhances health, wellness, and the betterment of the entire region.  In 2024, the LECOM Ambulatory Surgery Center opened in Erie.  A 23,000 square-foot facility supporting a full range of innovative care, the Center engages multidisciplinary specialists, bringing together cutting-edge medicine and compassionate care to treat the whole patient.

Also in 2024, LECOM is enlarging and updating Millcreek Community Hospital (MCH) as it continues to meet the needs of the Erie region in the 21st century.  An expansion of 34,000-square feet across two stories includes a new emergency room, an intensive care unit, 20 medical surgical beds, and a state-of-the-art cardiovascular laboratory. The well-equipped space addresses community behavioral health needs and medical-surgical emergencies, and it aids infection control in the event of a future pandemic.

In 2024, LECOM graduated its first class of medical doctors  from its New York State campus, LECOM at Elmira.  This inaugural graduation marks another step forward as LECOM advances the expansive network of highly-trained medical professionals throughout the nation.

Now, in its 31st year, LECOM has established an unassailable reputation as a leader in medical education and patient care, with its graduates highly sought after in the fields of medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry.  LECOM also has set the standard for affordable education in a private medical college setting where graduates achieve outstanding board scores and journey forward to make a difference in the field of health care.

The College has solidified its venerable place in medical education through a multiplicity of attributes; one of its most noteworthy offerings focuses upon its student-centered Learning Pathways.  LECOM became one of the first institutions to present its curriculum in multiple learning styles designed to address the specific educational needs of its students and it accorded them a choice of three- or four-year programs.

Coupled with its superlative curriculum, the character of those who practice their noble profession is at the heart of a LECOM education.  Those in leadership understood that a physician embodies honor, professional appearance, purposeful action, and responsible behavior.  The College adopted an honor code, a dress code for classroom and clinic, and professional policies that inculcate respect for the faculty, colleagues, and classmates.

The visionary leaders of medicine who founded LECOM sought to develop the core attributes that define a healthcare professional:  the credo of the calling; the intrinsic purpose of the healer; and the foundation of that which carries a physician to seek the best version of himself or herself – for each defines the future of medicine.

Much has transpired in three decades – education, enrichment, character, and community – all within the prophecy of a prescient body of educators and physicians whose idea of the possible triumphed over doubt.

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.

LECOM has stood steadfastly through the ages and now, thirty years on and as a vast medical education and healthcare nexus, it is still moving forward and growing strong.