Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate Dr. James Jennings, Jr. is congratulated by his proud aunt and EUR contributor Audrey J. Bernard (Photo by Gideon Manasseh)

*The historic Apollo Theater – where dreams are made and stars are born – just made dreams come true for over 100 graduating students of the inaugural class of The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) on Thursday, June 2, 2011 at one o’clock in the afternoon.

As their proud parents, family and friends looked on, the starry-eyed Class of 2011, led by a bagpiper, walked down the aisle of the famed theater as the inspirational voices of the Harlem Boys and Girls Choir filled the air with joyful jubilation, including my nephew James Jennings, Jr., a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree candidate and participant in Sigma Sigma Phi, the National Honorary Osteopathic Service Fraternity.

Since its opening in fall 2007, TouroCOM has developed a close relationship with the Harlem community and its leaders starting with the school’s mission of “addressing head on the disproportionately low numbers of minorities in medicine and to confront the lack of interest in primary care.”

Although the school could have held the event at many places in New York City, they chose to keep the graduation close to home and in the community as the school is a product of that community.  As a result, The Apollo was the definitive place for the first commencement exercise.  The event was also a celebration for TouroCOM which is the only new medical school to open in New York City in 30 years and is also the newest pride of the Harlem community.

Former New York Governor David A. Paterson delivered the commencement address in which he praised the graduates for  choosing TouroCOM and how delighted he is that many of  the graduates plan on returning to the community to practice medicine.

New York State Senator Bill Perkins also addressed the medical students and expressed his deep gratitude for the students’ interest in keeping Harlem healthy.  Senator Perkins issued each student with a proclamation of appreciation that they received with their diplomas.

“Just as many new careers in the arts have been launched on the stage of the Apollo, these young men and women are launching their careers as physicians,” stated Dean Robert Goldberg, DO.  “Over the years they will revisit their alma mater.   But most important, they have chosen to serve the great people of Harlem and other underserved communities in our country as osteopathic physicians.”

The newly-minted graduates are being hailed by the medical community for their recent acceptances into some of the best medical and surgical residency programs in the country, including those at New York University Medical Center (which will include Tisch and Bellevue hospitals); Walter Reed National Army Hospital; Mt. Sinai Hospital, Baltimore; the Mayo Clinic, and many others.  Several students have also received national individual honors, in stiff competition with other students at some of the nation’s most renowned medical schools.

Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine's newely-minted inaugural class of doctors celebrated their completion of medical scholl at Harlem's landmark Apollo Theater with Robert B. Goldberg, DO, Dean, Chief Academic Officer, Touro College; and Dr. Alan Kadish, President & Chief Executive Officer, Touro College (Phobo by Shahar Azran)

“Today is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of our staff, faculty and most importantly our students,” said Alan Kadish, M.D., president and CEO of the Touro College and University System.  “For a new medical school to have so much success sending students to top-tier medical programs with its first graduating class sets the precedent that we will be creating excellent doctors for many years to come.”

Since its founding in 2007, The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine has dedicated itself to encouraging minorities to enter medicine and to increasing the number of primary care physicians.  Of the graduating class, 53 percent are minorities.

Moreover, more than half the members of the graduating class have chosen residencies in primary care fields of medicine, which include general/internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, and OB/GYN. This figure contrasts sharply with the national rate of doctors choosing primary care, which is five percent.

“We value community-based, primary care medicine and hope that our students will come back to Harlem following their residencies to serve the community or similar urban neighborhoods,” explained Dean Goldberg.

After the uplifting ceremony, the new group of doctors was joined by faculty, administrators and guests attended a lovely luncheon reception at the school where they were given a tour of the new and impressive facilities located at 230 West 125th Street directly across from the Apollo Theater.

The degree offered at The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine is the doctor of osteopathic medicine, DO. Like M.D.s, DOs complete four years of basic medical education and pass comparable licensing exams.  DO’s receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), which gives them a diagnostic and therapeutic advantage in providing the most comprehensive care.

Osteopathic medical schools encourage their graduates to become primary care physicians; however approximately 40 percent take their post-graduate training in various specialties of medicine and surgery.

The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine is the nation’s 24th college of osteopathic medicine and Touro’s third. In 1997, Touro opened a college in Vallejo, California and in 2004, its second, in Henderson, Nevada. The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine has received accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association, Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, and its program is registered by the New York State Education Department.

Touro is a system of Jewish-sponsored non-profit institutions of higher and professional education.  Touro College was chartered in 1970 primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American community.  Approximately 19,000 students are currently enrolled in its various schools and divisions.

Touro College has branch campuses, locations and instructional sites in the New York area, as well as branch campuses and programs in Berlin, Jerusalem, Moscow, Paris, and Florida. Touro University California and its Nevada branch campus, as well as Touro College Los Angeles and Touro University Worldwide, are separately accredited institutions within the Touro College and University System.  For further information on Touro College, please go to: http://www.touro.edu/media.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.