“We’re No. 1” is not a boastful chant on the South Bend campus of Indiana University School of Medicine—it’s tradition.
The regional campus’ list of “firsts” includes piloting a statewide medical education expansion, becoming the first regional campus to offer the full MD curricular experience, and opening the first student-led community outreach clinic on a regional campus. South Bend also offers a unique Scholarly Concentration Program in Ethics, Equity and Justice.
“That’s part of the character of the South Bend campus—we’re not shy about trying to be the first to do something,” said Mark Fox, MD, PhD, MPH, associate dean and director of IU School of Medicine-South Bend.
This steady stream of firsts stems back to the collaborative spirit forged by IU President Herman B Wells and the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame, in the early 1960s. Historical records show Hesburgh was eager for his private university to partner with IU to bring medical education to South Bend—piloting a program designed to spread throughout the state.
In 1968, two students started their medical school education in South Bend, along with another pair at Purdue University in West Lafayette. By 1971, the Indiana State Legislature had signed a bill authorizing IU to open medical education centers at partner institutions throughout the state.
In South Bend, the medical program was originally housed in the basement of Notre Dame’s psychology building—with no signage. “For 35 years, it was really invisible,” Fox said.
That changed in 2005 with the opening of Raclin-Carmichael Hall, across the street from Notre Dame’s southern border. Harper Hall was added to the IU School of Medicine-South Bend campus in 2011, with shared space in both buildings for collaborative research with Notre Dame.
“We now have one of the strongest research enterprises on a regional campus,” Fox said. “It’s a distinguishing factor.”
Cultivating scientific curiosity
Fox’s predecessor, Rudy Navari, MD, PhD—an oncologist who served as director of Notre Dame’s cancer research center before taking leadership of IU School of Medicine-South Bend in 2005—identified cancer biology as a key research focus, along with genomics and infectious disease. Joint faculty recruitments with Notre Dame led to the creation of the Harper Cancer Research Institute in 2011—a unique public-private partnership between the two institutions. Under Navari’s leadership, annual research grants grew fourfold.
Along with collaborative research in cancer, many IU faculty members participate in research at Notre Dame’s Eck Institute for Global Health.
Molly Duman Scheel, PhD, a researcher with the Eck Institute since 2008, teaches molecular genetics at IU School of Medicine and biological sciences at Notre Dame while pursuing research into the developmental genetics of mosquitoes—vectors for diseases which kill more than 1 million people each year.
“I see global health as a golden opportunity for growth,” said Scheel, whose professorship is endowed by the Navari family. “Especially since the pandemic, people now know how critical global health is. I see opportunity for new recruits on both the Notre Dame and IU side, and I’d love to see mosquito research increase, especially in light of global warming.”
When Fox came to lead IU School of Medicine-South Bend in 2015, he brought expertise in public health and ethics. Six years ago, he recruited ethicist Joseph Kotva, PhD, to help develop a summer research program focused on community health innovation. That was the predecessor for a four-year Scholarly Concentration Program in Ethics, Equity and Justice launched in 2019.
“In our Scholarly Concentration, we’re trying to cultivate a group of medical providers who are attuned to issues of health equity and motivated to respond,” Fox explained. “We want them to understand all the other factors that impact an individual’s health and health outcomes.”
With the combined expertise of IU School of Medicine-South Bend and Notre Dame in an array of fields, medical students on the regional campus find themselves in a rich learning environment.
“Having research-intensive faculty contributes to creating a culture of critical thinking and inquiry,” Fox said.
Crafting a clinical education program
For 40 years, students could only do the first half of medical school—the classroom curriculum—on a regional campus before transferring to Indianapolis to complete clerkships. But in 2008, IU School of Medicine-South Bend stepped up again to establish a model for bringing third-and fourth-year clinical education to the regional campuses.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Stacey Patrick, MS, to transfer from Indianapolis to South Bend in 2006, due to her upcoming marriage. She had been part of the team which established IU School of Medicine’s first Office of Medical Education, a priority of Dean D. Craig Brater, MD (2000-2013).
“It was kind of a fluke I came up here and then the school decided to take that trajectory to expand regional campuses at that time,” Patrick said. “The stars just aligned.”
Patrick formed an exploratory committee and set to work finding local physicians who would volunteer their time teaching medical students in the clinical environment. She was amazed at the favorable response.
“No one said ‘no’ to me,” Patrick recalled. “They were enthusiastic about the idea of having a trainee with them the entire day to see the ins and outs of what they do in their specialty. When you have a student with you, you have to be much more intentional about explaining why you’re doing a procedure or ordering a lab. I like to say it’s a matter of faculty switching from being ‘unconsciously competent’ to ‘consciously competent.’ The challenge brought excitement.”
Today there are more than 400 local physicians serving as volunteer faculty in South Bend, but Patrick started with about 20. South Bend soon became the model as she helped other regional campuses start up their clinical education programs statewide.
Back in 2008, Gerald “Jerry” Morris, MD, was a married medical student with a young family and strong ties to the South Bend community. When he and another student, Joe Pavelites, heard rumor of the program’s expansion, they wanted to be the first to try it out.
“Joe and I felt South Bend was this medical gold mine that hadn’t really been tapped into from the medical student experience standpoint,” said Morris, who still lives and works in South Bend as a family medicine physician. “South Bend offered a wide open door with phenomenal hospitals and teaching physicians who were willing to welcome us in.
“It was an opportunity to learn in an intimate environment,” added Morris. “It made me a better student—there was no one else there to answer questions—and it better prepared me for what it would look like to serve on the ‘front lines’ of medical care in a small community like this.”
Morris went on to complete his residency at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital and joined the Memorial faculty in 2013. He’s also an adjunct clinical assistant professor of family medicine at IU School of Medicine and medical director for the local Pokagon tribal community, of which he is a member.
“The center of my heart lies in taking care of my community,” Morris said.
That’s exactly how the architects of IU’s plan for a statewide system of medical education envisioned it—medical students and residents staying to practice in the communities where they trained. For more than 50 years, IU School of Medicine-South Bend’s “can-do” spirit has paved the way for innovation in medical education throughout the state.
So, what’s ahead for this ambitious campus?
“There will be some impactful new collaborations with Notre Dame around community health and health equity,” envisions Fox. “There will be an expanded student cohort that stays in South Bend for clinical education and additional residency opportunities in the region. We will continue to cultivate students who want to make a difference in the lives of their patients--and their communities.”
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.
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.