This letter is one of a series I am writing following tours to health professional school  campuses to get an
on-site view of their programs for the information of pre-medical students at San Diego State University.  The following account is based on my own personal observations and in no way should be interpreted as an endorsement.

Last Plane to Kirksville…..November 1, 2001

      If you plan to be an osteopathic physician, should you consider the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in a remote, but lovely, little city of 16,988 souls (2000 census) 220 miles northwest of St Louis by car—but something more of an adventure (for me, at least) by air?
     My brief visit in mid-autumn was informative and, by my preferences, delightful.  But is the school right for you?

     If you like the idea of a school that has a transcript for community service and a program to keep medical students healthy—keep reading.  If you like the open country and don’t need the big city atmosphere, if you would rather count deer than skyscrapers, if you have a spouse and/or family and want a supportive, small town environment for them, read on…

“Take the last train to Clarksville,
And I'll meet you at the station.
You can be be there by four thirty,
'Cause I made your reservation.
Don't be slow, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!”
     The words to the Monkee’s song kept reverberating through my head with a slight change:

     “Take the last plane to Kirksville…”

     Since it was less than two months after September 11, I taxied from my St. Louis hotel at 4 a.m. to catch my flight to a place that my map said was somewhere near the Iowa border.  The line to the check-in counter had already begun circling inside of the terminal.  By running the gauntlet in an hour and a half, the half hour I had saved for a cup of coffee vanished into the much longer line awaiting security clearance.
After racing to the boarding area, I now found takeoff was delayed.  I grabbed a cup of coffee.
      Ten minutes later, sloshing my coffee, I was staring into an absolutely empty passenger cabin of 20 seats:  I was the only passenger!
      Nicole McGovern, Assistant Director of Admissions,  picked me up at the airport and  drove through the color of fall countryside to a charming neighborhood where I picked up delicious blueberry bread at the coffee shop. We passed Truman State University before arriving at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCOM).

     There, a gigantic foyer housed the log cabin of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (father of osteopathic medicine),

Lori Haxton in doorway of Dr. Still's log cabin

the first frame osteopathic school,

Barb Huntington in front of first school of osteopathy

and a museum of osteopathy with a complete dissected-out human nervous system.

Dissected out nervous system

     Upstairs Dr. Barry Robbins, Interim Vice President and Dean, and Dr. Philip Slocum, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, briefed me on the curriculum. (Observing that my notebook had disappeared, they replace it with a yellow notepad--more about the ill-fated notepad later.)  Both gentlemen exuded an enthusiasm for the school that seemed to pulsate the room with energy.
     I felt the same enthusiasm when I next met Ron Gaber, Vice President and Dean of Students, who presented two intriguing innovations.  The first was the Still-Well program in which enrolling students receive complete health evaluations including nutrition, weight, and exercise.  The idea is to keep them just as healthy or healthier when they leave as when they arrived.

Ron Gaber

In one class, each student received a walking stick.  Dean Gaber gave me one but, alas, another note on today’s air travel, I had read that I would not be allowed to bring bats or other sports equipment on the plane. I asked him to mail it.--When it arrived upon my return, carefully bubble-wrapped, I christened it by a climb up Cowles Mountain at home in San Diego.
     The second innovation was one I would love to see at SDSU.  Besides an academic transcript, Kirksville provides a Leadership, Development and Service Transcript.  In each of the three areas, activities, dates and number of hours are documented.  Wouldn’t this be a terrific way to implement our Community Based Learning?
     After my meeting with Ron Gaber, Lori Haxton explained their admissions procedures.

Lori Haxton, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Services

I was renewing my acquaintance with the smiling, warm and enthusiastic Lori whom I had met long before this trip.  Her husband coordinates a comprehensive museum traveling exhibit called The Healer Within which will be in the Smithsonian and eventually in San Diego.  The exhibit shows the body’s self-healing characteristics and has lots of hands-on experiences for adults and children.
     Lunch with faculty members and a tour of the campus led into my visit was with the Osteopathic Manipulation Methods (OMM) Fellows.  Osteopathic Manipulation Methods are one way of helping the body heal, and the Fellows work hard to understand the human body in their skilled hands.  From OMM, we went to the gross anatomy lab to visit with the Anatomy Fellows.  We talked in a circle of high stools so that my back was to a cadaver. (Now if I could just wear nose plugs!)  The Fellows were pleasingly adept in conveying information on their field to a lay person.

KCOM Fellows

     Gabbing with students later in the cafeteria, I found that the married ones felt particularly fortunate to live in Kirksville and I gained the impression marriages might have a better survival rate than in some other schools.
      I was whisked back to the coffee shop in town to meet with Christian Deveaux, an SDSU alum.  One of the greatest joys of being a premed advisor is seeing your charges who have left the nest as they go on to bigger and better things.  Besides getting to hear about his studies and to see a picture of his little dog, I learned about his simple, low-cost apartment—definitely a rental that one could only dream about on the Coasts.  (Afterthought: Gasoline was only $1.09—that’s still hard to find hereabouts!)
     After I had checked into the hotel, Nicole drove us through the countryside to Thousand Hills State Park for a delicious dinner with Becky Steinberg, Associate Director of Admissions.  We counted 10 deer on the way.
     The next day it was back to the airport again to another 20-passenger jet with, guess who? –and 19 empty seats.  The young luggage checker out-performed all checkers: I had to sip from a previously unopened bottle of water, while he checked the seams of my wallet and unscrewed all the 4-zillion ballpoint pens I collect at conferences and along my travels.
     At last I was on my way—little knowing my now-opened water bottle would wash away all the notes about KCOM curriculum on my yellow pad before I landed in Washington, DC in the next lap of my journey.
     So should you apply to Kirksville?  Obviously your decision should be based on more than my traveler’s notes.  I’ve had students who interviewed there and felt they were just too used to the big city to be able to live in the wide-open spaces.  How has my visit changed me?  Well, I’m going to start telling administrative folks at SDSU about the transcript for community service and see if we can start our own Still-Well program to keep premeds healthy.
     Want to know more about the curriculum? Try their web page at:  --far preferable to my soggy yellow notepad!