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Start a medical school in Martinsville?
VMNH founder outlines his proposal, forming committees
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Noel Boaz

Sunday, January 29, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Noel Boaz, who turned an empty school into the Virginia Museum of Natural History, has set his sights on creating a medical school in the area.

Boaz founded the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville in 1984 in the former Joseph Martin Elementary School. It became a state agency in 1988 and moved into its current Starling Avenue building in 2007. Boaz left as the director of the museum in 1990, he said.

Boaz, who has a doctorate and medical degree, now is an affiliate research professor of anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University and for the past two years was a professor of anatomy and the head of medical education at the Libyan International Medical University (LIMU) in Benghazi, Libya.

He also has taught at Ross University School of Medicine in the Caribbean and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Last week, Boaz presented his plan for a medical school to community leaders and other potential stakeholders at an organizational meeting of the advisory board of the "College of Henricopolis School of Medicine."�

Boaz is the president and CEO of the board of directors of the Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine (ICSM), an aggregate of nonprofit educational, research and charitable institutions based in Martinsville.

According to ICSM's website, the College of Henricopolis was incorporated in 2010 as a Virginia nonprofit corporation and is planned to begin operating as a medical school operated by ICSM. No timetable has been set for the project.

Boaz envisions that the college would become one of ICSM's five centers, which conduct research throughout the U.S. and abroad. The ICSM board of directors also serves as the board of trustees of the school, Boaz said.

The College of Henricopolis School of Medicine was America's first institution of higher education, founded in 1618 at the Citie of Henricus in Virginia. Boaz wants to re-establish that college in the Martinsville area.

The original College of Henricopolis was adjacent to America's first hospital, which was nicknamed "Mount Malady."�

The modern College of Henricopolis would incorporate the original college's core functions of medical training, research and clinical service, according to Boaz.

He said he wants to bring a medical school to the area "because I'm from here" and he's committed to improving the area.

The professors and students that the college might attract would benefit the community because they could live and shop in the area, he added.

Being a professor, Boaz would be hands-on for the first few years to create the medical school. He would work to recruit faculty members and also develop the curriculum, he said.

There are medical schools in Virginia, but none in Southside, he said.

More than 8 million people live in Virginia and the commonwealth needs more medical schools to train doctors to serve the population, he added.

Boaz is trying to organize an advisory board of about 25 members representing groups such as business, students, philanthropy, nonprofits, investors, patients, health care providers, the hospital, educators and the community. The board would help the medical school administration organize 10 committees to launch programs and initiatives in its first year of operation.

Five of the committees would handle the programs for the tiers of instruction - K-12, college/university, medical school, postgraduate/continuing medical education and a lecture series. The other five committees would be developmental groups for investors, grants, donations and gifts, buildings and grounds and recruitment of volunteers.

Boaz said he feels K-12 instruction should be incorporated because The Harvest Foundation health planning survey findings showed a need to improve health education in the schools, targeting problem areas of obesity, substance abuse and teen pregnancy.

For the first year of the College of Henricopolis, the K-12 programs would be offered as "blended education," he said. Online resources would be available to teachers and coupled with in-class teacher training by Henricopolis educators, according to Boaz.

The other tiers would incorporate a student's undergraduate pre-medical and health-science-related courses - medical school curriculum which leads to the doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree - and dissection-based instruction and practical demonstration of new surgical procedures for practicing surgeons.

The lecture series would educate the public about economic development, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and obesity.

Memorial Hospital in Martinsville would be involved with the project by providing space for medical students' clinical rotations, he said.

The medical school would help Memorial because it would attract new doctors, he said, adding that school faculty also could practice at the hospital.

Boaz said he feels that the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission would help fund the project, but he hopes local investors and donations would be the driving force to create the medical school.

He estimated the price tag at $25 million for the first two years to start the college and get the medical school accredited. Once accredited, the income from tuition would help sustain the school, he said, adding that a long-range budget plan is being developed.

The faster $12.5 million can be collected to fund the college's first year, the faster the programs and the classes can begin, he said.

The medical school would not be high-tech with extensive testing equipment such as MRI machines, but professors would teach the students how to use those machines, Boaz said. That would lower its costs, he added.

To accommodate the plans for 150 medical students per term, the minimum building size needed would be between 45,000 and 50,000 square feet, he said.

Two possible locations identified thus far, he said, are:

"¢ A former pharmacy building adjacent to the Martinsville Medical Center off Hospital Drive

"¢ A Resurgence building off of Rives Road near U.S. 220 South

Both sites have benefits and disadvantages.

The pharmacy building is about 25,000 square feet and would require some remodeling and building additional spaces.

The resurgence building would not need renovations, Boaz said. It also is about 43,500 square feet. However, it is further from the hospital, he said.

To have a place to organize the plans and get in contact with more people, those working on creating the medical school will be moving into the West Piedmont Business Development Center Incubator on East Church Street in February, Boaz said.

The West Piedmont Business Development Center and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. "have been very helpful" in trying to get this project up and running, he added.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the advisory board or getting involved in the project may contact Boaz at 632-4276 or by email at


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