As Derron Bishop, PhD, animatedly shares his vision for improving health care outcomes in Muncie and east central Indiana, others seem to mirror his enthusiasm involuntarily, infected by his palpable excitement over collaborative opportunities among the region’s pillar institutions for health care and economic development.
As associate dean and director of IU School of Medicine-Muncie, Bishop is a connector—between the School of Medicine and its host campus, Ball State University, as well as increasing collaborations with community partners and IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, where he sits on the board of directors.
“Dr. Bishop is very actively involved in the community and is very well respected, not just in the health care sector but in the private sector as well,” said Jeffrey Bird, MD, president of IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and the IU Health East Central Region. “The work he leads in our Healthy Lifestyle Centers is so important to our community and keeps him very connected. We are blessed to have him as such an involved community impactor and leader.”
Students at IU School of Medicine-Muncie also feel a unique connection with their campus leader.
“Dr. Bishop has been very welcoming from day one and very approachable with problems,” said fourth-year medical student Jennifer Wilson.
She once ranted about a lecture she didn’t like, feeling comfortable enough with the campus dean to share authentically during a one-on-one meeting—something Bishop schedules with each medical student assigned to his campus at least once per semester.
But those aren’t the only opportunities to catch up with the dean. Students willing to lace up a pair of running shoes are invited to go jogging with Bishop.
“We don’t want people to fall through the cracks academically, but more importantly, we don’t want our students to fall through the cracks emotionally. If we notice something wrong with a student, we reach out. It’s easy for us to do because we know them—many times I know their significant other, their pets—sometimes they go running with me, and I have them over to the house at the beginning of the year,” Bishop said. “It’s very much a thing of breaking down barriers so we can have an open exchange. That’s what I value.”
Nathan Timm, MD, was one of those students who enjoyed running with Bishop. Now completing his residency in family medicine at Ball Memorial, Timm was among the first medical students to study all four years on the Muncie campus, graduating in 2018.
“I felt like Dr. Bishop was always interested in how we were doing—if we were feeling overwhelmed or stressed—that was part of the release going running with him. We could just chat about things,” Timm said.
He felt well-supported by the entire IU School of Medicine-Muncie community, particularly two staff members: Student Liaison Coordinator Kim Casada and Administrative Coordinator Ila Verneman.
“They were kind of like everyone’s second moms. They would always have snacks and coffee and be there for us,” Timm said.
Location, location, location…and a mansion
Along with the close-knit community, IU School of Medicine-Muncie has something else to offer that no other regional campus can claim: a commute that’s mere footsteps to the hospital, as well as to amenities on the host university campus.
“We’re the only campus that is literally embedded in the clinical environment; we’re actually on IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital property,” Bishop said.
The School of Medicine is housed one floor above the Ball Memorial Hospital family medicine residency program. It’s also right next to one of the largest federally qualified health centers in the state: Meridian Health Services.
“We can see into patient rooms from our windows,” said fourth-year medical student Luke Vaughn. “It’s great getting clinical experience during the first two years of medical school. You’re right in the middle of things.”
Additionally, Ball State offers IU School of Medicine students access to its amenities, including the gym, library and intramural sports teams.
“We have this tremendous geography with everything all in one place,” Bishop said. “Our students literally pull up, park right in front of the building, walk in, and everything they need is within five minutes walking. They don’t even carry umbrellas—even when it’s pouring.”
And, there’s a mansion. Seriously. Bishop arranged a deal with the Ball Brothers Foundation to allow visiting medical students to stay at the Maplewood Mansion during clerkships in Muncie. Medical students who study full-time in Muncie also can enjoy the mansion’s amenities. (See Maplewood Mansion video).
Maplewood is one of the manor homes built by the five Ball brothers after they relocated their canning company from Buffalo, New York, to Muncie in 1887. Situated along the northern bank of the White River, the Colonial-style estate includes a massive formal dining room, a sitting room with a grand piano and stately furnishings—some accented with gold. Medical students enjoy use of an exercise room, a recreational lounge with billiards, foosball and a minibar, and a stocked kitchen, along with several quaint studying nooks.
Rotating medical students get hotel-like accommodations with in-suite bathrooms. Maplewood even has its own hospitality staff—compliments of Ball State’s residential property management program. The School of Medicine occasionally hosts “Dinner with a Doc” at the mansion, inviting medical students to enjoy conversation with a local physician and a four-course meal prepared and served by Ball State hospitality students.
Advantages of being ‘the underdog’
Collaborations like the Maplewood Mansion Learning Lab are among the fruits of what’s known as Optimus Primary, a joint venture of the Ball Brothers Foundation, IU School of Medicine-Muncie, IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, Meridian Health Services and Ball State University.
Maplewood isn’t just a posh place to stay; it’s an opportunity to introduce and recruit future physicians to the community of Muncie, giving them a positive experience to share with others, Bishop said.
Although Muncie has a historically strong health care community, Delaware County ranks among Indiana’s most unhealthy counties in terms of health outcomes: 85th of 92.
“To me, this is perfect—we have an unhealthy population and all the raw materials to sit down and come up with unique ways to address how to improve the health of the community,” Bishop said. “There’s something about being the underdog. To me, this is ground zero. That’s what keeps me going is this incredible opportunity that we have here to make this a top-notch training program for medical education.”
Bishop is not just an optimist; he’s an innovator: “We try things—some work and some don’t. When it works, we write it up and make it exportable to other communities.”
“Muncie is a place you can actually test this stuff,” Bishop said. “We’re a relatively small community with this large health care footprint and the community behind us. I’m excited for our future.”
While IU School of Medicine students help run free health care clinics throughout the state, what’s happening in Muncie is a little different. Muncie medical students work alongside Ball State students from a variety of health professions programs in a joint venture aimed at preventing diseases and illnesses, rather than medically managing them after they’ve developed.
“Eighty percent of health care cost is chronic disease, and 80 percent of chronic disease is modifiable lifestyle factors. So why aren’t we running a clinic that addresses these kinds of things?” Bishop said of the motivation behind this interdisciplinary wellness clinic which involves exercise physiology, social work, speech pathology, nutrition and health science, along with several other health professions programs.
Undergirded by a $2 million grant from Ball Brothers Foundation, the Healthy Lifestyle Center currently has about 700 clients from the community who get individualized plans and support in adopting healthy behaviors.
“As far as I know, there is no other student-run clinic doing something like this,” Bishop said. “This is the first of its kind.”
IU School of Medicine-Muncie offers medical students the opportunity to participate in a scholarly concentration program in health promotion and disease prevention. Along with working at the Healthy Lifestyle Center, students on the Muncie campus take part in community outreach projects addressing issues of food insecurity, addiction, domestic violence and other factors of health and well-being.
“The people who teach in Muncie want to teach and are dedicated to helping students learn outside of the school building,” said Lynn Witty, MD, an adjunct professor of medicine who manages community outreach efforts for IU School of Medicine-Muncie. “We have a Muncie campus dean who sees the vision of community involvement and the need to have medical students come back to Muncie to practice.”
Bishop is now working to create a pipeline program that would provide a pathway for local high school students to go into a health professions program at Ball State and subsequently become a direct-admit to IU School of Medicine-Muncie, if criteria are met.
“I don’t do things the same way everybody else does,” Bishop said. “Show me the pieces we’ve got, and we’re going to leverage that to the best of our abilities.”
There’s a specific kind of medical student who does well in Muncie, fully embracing the vision for community engagement and longitudinal health care—the kind likely to stick around for residency or come back to practice a medical specialty in the region.
“The type of student that works on my campus is one that’s doing medicine for intrinsic reasons,” Bishop said. “If you really went into medicine to make a difference in people’s lives, this is the place to be.”
About this series:
Indiana University School of Medicine is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its statewide system for medical education, established by the Indiana State Legislature in 1971. This series highlights the unique history of each regional campus and celebrates its distinctive learning environment and special programs.
Medical students in Muncie say they have everything they need to thrive in medical school, including supportive faculty and students who look out for each other.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Laura is a senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications. A native Hoosier, she has 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.