Fifty years ago, 23 students arrived in Norfolk to form the first class of a brand-new medical school that didn’t even have its own building yet.
Eastern Virginia Medical School has flourished ever since, growing its student body, programs and campus to a degree its founders likely couldn’t have imagined. What hasn’t changed is EVMS’ mission: to serve the Hampton Roads community.
“Every decision we make is based on improving the quality of healthcare right here,” says Alfred Abuhamad, MD, President and Provost of EVMS and Dean of the School of Medicine. “Our education, research and clinical care programs are all designed to achieve that goal. Such a community-oriented focus is very special – and very different from other medical schools.”
Today, EVMS has more than 600 students enrolled in its medical school, along with 800 in a School of Health Professions that formally opened in 2008. Another 400 physicians are enrolled in 43 residency and fellowship programs.
About a third of EVMS graduates stay in the region to train and practice. The school also has created programs specifically to meet a growing local need for providers such as Physician Assistants, Surgical Assistants and public health professionals. “It’s a huge advantage to have the ability to train our next generations of healthcare workers,” Dr. Abuhamad says.
EVMS’ history dates back to 1964 when the Virginia legislature created the Norfolk Area Medical Center Authority to develop a medical school. At the time, Hampton Roads was the largest metropolitan area in the country without such a program.
After a fundraising drive led by physicians, business leaders and philanthropists, EVMS received provisional accreditation in 1972 and welcomed its inaugural MD class the following year. Classes met in Smith-Rogers Hall, a converted nursing school dormitory.
A class of art therapists graduated in 1974, and the charter MD class graduated in 1976 – two years before EVMS celebrated the completion of its first building, Lewis Hall.
EVMS has continued to expand its physical facilities and capabilities ever since, with programs dedicated to areas such as cancer, diabetes, geriatrics, community and global health and women’s health. Recent advancements include the Goldrich Institute for Integrated NeuroHealth and Waitzer Hall, an 11-story, $80 million structure with space for students, faculty and administrators.
Over the years, EVMS has made headlines for many medical milestones. Just a few are the nation’s first child conceived through in vitro fertilization in 1981, the region’s first pediatric cochlear implant in 1990, and development of an antiretroviral gel to fight HIV worldwide.
EVMS students also have taken the lead on impactful programs for families in need, spearheading community service efforts such as Coats for Kids and the popular free clinic Health Outreach Partnership of EVMS Students (HOPES).
In 2019, EVMS continued its evolution by welcoming its most diverse incoming class in history and offering programs to educate and mentor students in local public schools and at Norfolk State and Hampton universities.
Last year, the EVMS Center for Maternal and Child Health Equity and Advocacy began work to improve outcomes for minority patients. EVMS also partnered with Old Dominion University and NSU to develop the ONE School of Public Health with $2 million in support from Sentara.
Next year will bring a major change to EVMS, as it integrates with ODU to form Virginia’s largest health sciences center. Additional state support that comes with the natural alliance should position EVMS well for the future, Dr. Abuhamad believes.
“We’ve made incredible progress so far with much more limited resources,” he notes. “This will help us continue our mission for the next 50 years – and beyond.”