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History of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

When osteopathic schools were forming throughout the country in the 1890s, two students at the Northern Institute of Osteopathy in Minneapolis—the Rev. Mason Wiley Pressly and Oscar John Snyder—targeted Philadelphia as a future home for an osteopathic college.

While the “City of Brotherly Love” had a rich history of medicine, it had but one “osteopathist” by the time Drs. Pressly and Snyder graduated in 1898 and 1899, respectively. The two doctors of osteopathy (DOs) followed through with their vision, incorporating Philadelphia College and Infirmary of Osteopathy (PCIO) on January 24, 1899. They rented two rooms in the Stephen Girard Building at 21 South 12th Street—the first of many homes for the College—and opened their doors to students and patients.

In September 1899, the first PCIO degree was awarded to a transfer student; the first PCIO “class,” comprised of one woman and one MD, graduated in February 1900. It was not long before the early graduates formed an alumni association. By the end of the first year, the College outgrew its space in the Stephen Girard Building. The academic year beginning February 1, 1900, commenced in PCIO’s second Center City location: the newly built Witherspoon Building at Juniper and Walnut Streets. From 1900 to 1903, PCIO occupied the entire south side of the sixth floor with classrooms, clinical facilities and laboratories.


Early Years

The word of osteopathy spread quickly in Philadelphia. As the number of students and faculty grew, the College moved to larger quarters in 1903, establishing its first “campus” at 33rd and Arch Streets, a then-suburban neighborhood in West Philadelphia. In a seven-story Victorian stone mansion with gas lighting and a big wrap-around porch, surrounded by grassy lawns, a tradition of student life started with the organization of athletics, professional societies, fraternities and sororities.

By 1906 the College opened the Osteopathic Dispensary at 1617 Fairmount Avenue, a three-bed facility for the underprivileged of the community seeking osteopathic treatment. The College moved to 1715 North Broad Street (1908-1912), then from 1912-1916 to 832 Pine Street in the city’s Society Hill neighborhood, where the Osteopathic Hospital of Philadelphia, the first osteopathic hospital to be chartered in Philadelphia, would come to fruition around the corner at 410 S. Ninth Street.


College Expansion

Black and white photo of PCOM's 1916 campus building at 48th and Spruce Streets in PhiladelphiaAfter four prosperous years on Pine Street, PCIO bought its first building at 19th and Spring Garden Streets in 1917. The College, officially renamed Philadelphia College of Osteopathy (PCO) in 1921, erected a three-story, 52-bed hospital building to the rear and acquired two adjacent townhouses—one for additional classrooms and clinics, the other to serve as the Nurses’ Home for the College’s new Training School for Nurses.

A training school for nurses and Department of Free Clinics were established in the hospital, which featured a surgical amphitheater. The clinics would become a critical component of practical instruction for generations of students.


The Depression and War Years

Black and white photo of a doctor lecturing osteopathic medical studentsExpanding again, PCO was completing construction of a new collegiate Gothic-style college and hospital building at 48th and Spruce Streets on the eve of the Depression. Times were tough, but with strong leadership from the board of directors and others, PCO weathered the storm.

During the 1930s, the curriculum expanded, pre-osteopathic and graduate schools started, and PCO created the profession’s first Department of Osteopathic Research. The basement clinic at 48th Street was organized into rows of 40 numbered cubicles which resembled booths. The third- and fourth-year student physicians who sat at each cubicle while seeing patients became known as “booth doctors” who played an increasingly important role in providing health care to the Philadelphia community.

During the war years, PCO accelerated the curriculum from four years to three, and welcomed many returning GIs into the classes of the late 1940s and ’50s. Medicine was becoming more specialized and complex, increasing the need for clinical training.


A New Home

Black and white photo of Evans Hall and the North Center Hospital in 1951In 1951, PCO acquired Women’s Homeopathic Hospital at 20th Street and Susquehanna Avenue and turned it into a satellite facility called North Center Hospital. Many PCO medical students, nurses, interns and residents trained here.

In time, 48th Street no longer met the needs for state-of-the-art medical education and patient care or the demands for larger class sizes. In 1957, the College purchased 16 acres of land at City Avenue and Monument Road and the Tudor Revival–style Moss Estate housed on it. The estate, situated at the heart of the new campus, was renovated and named the Levin Administration Building. The College was renamed Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) in 1967. A year later, the Frederic H. Barth Pavilion of the Hospitals of PCOM opened, and Evans Hall—the classroom, library and laboratory building—was completed in 1973. An adjacent five-story office building, acquired in 1977, was renovated into classrooms, laboratories and medical offices. The building was later named Rowland Hall after PCOM’s fourth president, Thomas M. Rowland, Jr., DO (Hon.), LLD (Hon.).

During the 1970s, PCOM enhanced the basic sciences by recruiting many PhD faculty members, instituted new programs in osteopathic education, expanded residency programs and established a School of Allied Health.


Healthcare Centers

In keeping with the College’s mission to train primary care physicians, PCOM opened a rural healthcare center in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, and in several urban Philadelphia neighborhoods. The centers provide care to medically underserved populations while serving as key sites for the clinical education of PCOM students—not only DO students, but physician assistant and psychology students as well.

In 2020, PCOM transferred ownership of the clinical practice in Sullivan County to Family Practice Center, PC, owned and operated by PCOM alumni.

In 2022, the City Avenue location, Family Medicine at PCOM, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to highlight a renovation and expansion project that more than tripled the size of the facility footprint and transformed the facility into a one-stop shop to serve the medical needs of the community. New additions include a spacious and comfortable waiting area, 15 examination rooms (including two outfitted for pediatrics), a dedicated space for mental health services, a new physician who specializes in women’s reproductive health, a preceptor room where PCOM students can collaborate with physicians, a lab and a phlebotomy room where patients can get blood drawn and COVID vaccines, often without an appointment. Beyond the spacious layout, new flooring, lighting and soothing ambience, a new vybe urgent care center located only steps away from the primary care practice will refer walk-in patients to PCOM for follow-up care, to identify a primary care provider and for chronic care management.


Program Diversification

The addition of non-DO academic programs to the curriculum starting in the early `90s began a new era of diversification for PCOM. Program launches and expansions include:


Campus Modernization and Expansion

Walkway and landscaping in front of Evans Hall at PCOM's Philadelphia campusTo expand and modernize its campus, PCOM embarked on an ambitious campus overhaul from 1995-1999. An expansion of Evans Hall added a modern osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, classrooms, the Office of Admissions and a cafeteria. Evans Hall, Rowland Hall and the Levin Administration Building were renovated, and landscaped greenery gave the College a true campus feeling.

In 1997, a larger, state-of-the-art PCOM Healthcare Center - Cambria opened a block from the old site. The final phase of the campus overhaul was completed in 1999 with the opening of a 55,000-square-foot activities center. The center includes exercise equipment, student lounges and basketball and racquetball courts.

Front of Meta Christy House at PCOMIn 2001, the College purchased the former City Avenue Hospital. The building was razed, and the College sold a parcel of land to neighbor WPVI Channel 6. Investment income from the sale has been used for need-based student scholarships; the remaining acres have been reserved to accommodate future construction.

In 2021, the College opened Meta Christy House, named in honor of Meta L. Christy, DO 1921, located adjacent to the PCOM campus. Previously, Overmont House, the newly renovated facility includes 224 fully furnished apartments on 12 floors. The location allows students to live on campus and to be part of a safe living community.


Expansion Into Georgia

Front doors and walkway at PCOM Georgia in Suwanee, GAResponding to a growing need for healthcare providers in the South, PCOM established a new, state-of-the-art branch campus in Suwanee, Georgia in 2005. Renamed PCOM Georgia in 2019, the Suwanee location offers a range of health-related degree programs, enabling students to gain an education close to home with the aim of serving the health needs of their communities and the region. Students can pursue professional doctoral degree programs in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy and physical therapy. PCOM Georgia also offers master’s degree programs in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies.

The 23-acre campus, located at 625 Old Peachtree Road in Suwanee, includes the 172,000-square-foot Old Peachtree building, which features large and small classrooms, conference areas and study spaces. The Old Peachtree building also houses research and multi-use basic science laboratories, an anatomy laboratory, the Simulation Center, three pharmacy practice labs, a large osteopathic manipulative medicine practice suite and the Physical Therapy Education Center.

A second campus building, the 21,000-square-foot Northlake building, houses offices for administrative personnel, admissions, marketing and communications, and alumni relations. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.

In 2017, PCOM extended its reach into Georgia with an additional location in Moultrie, Georgia, about 225 miles to the south of PCOM Georgia. PCOM South Georgia welcomed its inaugural class of DO students in August 2019. The 75,000-square-foot facility, built on 30 acres, stretches out in four distinct wings framed around a central common space that functions as the social heart of the building. The facility includes expansive classrooms, osteopathic manipulative medicine and anatomy labs, a simulation center, exam and practice rooms, and an information commons. In 2020, PCOM South Georgia expanded its academic offerings to include the biomedical sciences program.

Front of PCOM South Georgia and its grounds

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