Heritage College, Cleveland Clinic share pride in first Cleveland graduates

May 16, 2019


From left, Isaac Kirstein, D.O.; Ken Johnson, D.O.; Josette Beran; James Young, M.D.; and M. Duane Nellis, Ph.D.

Graduation of the first class of osteopathic physicians trained at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cleveland reflects the promise of a long collaboration between the college and its education partners, most notably Cleveland Clinic. At a celebratory event for the campus’s inaugural graduating class held May 7 at the Great Lakes Science Center, a Cleveland Clinic executive said the health system takes pride in the students, just as the college does, and sees great things in their future.

“Your graduation from the Cleveland campus is the fruition of an idea and a discussion that started back in 2010,” Cleveland Clinic Chief Strategy Officer Josette Beran told members of the Heritage College, Cleveland, class of 2019. “Given Cleveland Clinic’s vision to be the best place to receive care, and the best place to work in health care, it made complete sense for the Cleveland Clinic to collaborate with the Heritage College… And I want to say honestly, this is one of our favorite collaborations.”

After operating from a single campus at Ohio University in Athens for nearly 40 years, the Heritage College added a campus in Dublin in 2014, followed by the opening of the Cleveland site the following year.

The Cleveland campus was created in affiliation with Cleveland Clinic, within its South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville Heights. One of its aims is to address the need for more physicians – especially in primary care – to serve northeast Ohio, a need that’s felt urgently by both partners. In addition to providing clinical training opportunities for the college’s medical students, Cleveland Clinic is partnering in an innovative primary care curriculum demonstration project at the campus, the Transformative Care Continuum.

Indicative of the importance of the partnership, Beran and two other Cleveland Clinic officials were honored Tuesday with Trillium awards, recognizing advocates who have helped the Heritage College thrive and grow. Also receiving Trilliums were James Young, M.D., chief academic officer, and Victoria Wearsch, strategy partner for strategic partnering and network integration. 

The motives for both the new campus and the TCC, Beran told the students, were to address the region’s physician shortage, to change how physicians are trained, to improve patient outcomes, “and ultimately to transform the health of the communities that we serve… We hope that as you continue your professional journey, you will join us at the Cleveland Clinic in partnership to deliver world-class care everywhere.” As for the TCC, she said, “We love this program, and we feel like it’s really going to transform health care.”

Ken Johnson, D.O., Heritage College executive dean and Ohio University chief medical affairs officer, said no other health care system could have provided the kind of innovation that allowed the new campus to move forward as a collaborative venture and the TCC to be launched. “One of the things I think Ohio University is best at is partnership,” he said. “Without partnership, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do… And if it weren’t for the truly transformational leadership of superheroes, this campus wouldn’t be a reality.”

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, Ph.D., said creation of the new campus followed the example of Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), known as the father of Ohio University. When Cutler saw unmet community needs, Nellis said, “he took action, time and time again” to address them. Likewise, he said, “the need for primary care in northeast Ohio called us to action once more, and we created this campus.” He told the students that “your story is now forever etched into Ohio University, and you’re part of the nexus, the connection, that makes this such a special place.”

Heritage College, Cleveland, Dean Isaac Kirstein, D.O., said the collaboration between the college and the Clinic has deepened steadily. “Every step of the way, the relationship just got stronger, and our vision just got stronger, and the collaborations just got stronger,” he said.

This relationship went beyond the institutional to the familial, he added. He cited the example of longtime South Pointe environmental services employee Hugh McCall, “who has always been part of our family” since the campus opened. “A culture of family is important, and not just because it’s a nice thing,” Kirstein explained. “If we’re going to meet our mission of making primary care doctors, and compassionate community doctors, we’d better have an absolute culture of family.”

Kirstein also lifted up the involvement of the Brentwood Foundation and its connections to the region’s osteopathic physician community in making the campus work. “While the Brentwood Foundation has helped us with financial support to get the campus started, it’s done something much more vital,” he said. “Which is the incredible history that we have had at the South Pointe campus and the osteopathic community that we’ve built off of in Warrensville Heights and beyond. We really are standing on the shoulders of that great community.”

Kirstein praised faculty and staff individually and collectively for their dedication to training compassionate, skilled osteopathic physicians who will serve their communities. He thanked the students for trusting that they would receive good training at a new campus that was still under construction when they first saw it.

“You believed in us, and for that I’ll forever be grateful,” he said. He cited the many events, programs and activities students organized or took part in, such as the annual “Trunk or Treat,” which provides neighborhood children a safe Halloween celebration, and the Aspiring DOctors pre-college health careers pipeline program, targeting area high schoolers from underrepresented minority backgrounds. “If there’s one thing that I’m most proud of, that to me represents everything that our campus stands for, it’s our Aspiring DOctors program,” Kirstein said.

Graduating Cleveland student Nicole Zell, president of the campus’s class of 2019, thanked faculty and staff for their support. “What a great opportunity it’s been to be a part of this new campus and to shape its culture,” she said. “You have all been great mentors and resources, and we will always be grateful to you.”

Another ally in the campus’s success has been the city of Warrensville Heights, which has supported the project from the beginning and has provided some funding for its programming. Mayor Bradley Sellers said after the celebration event that the graduation of the campus’s first class is evidence that dreams come true.

“I want to commend Ohio University for all of their forethought and initiative,” Sellers said. “They saw an immediate need for primary care physicians to be developed, and they invested in that. And they came here and asked if the city would invest in it and made a great case. We felt like it was a worthwhile investment to double down here and be supportive of the entire operation and the goals they were trying to achieve. Somebody took a chance, because they didn’t have to set that here in Warrensville. So we’re appreciative of it and appreciative of the great students they’re turning out, who are going to be our new medical professionals going forward.”