A Summary of PCOM's Rich History
When osteopathic schools were forming throughout the country in the 1890s, two doctor of osteopathy (DO) students at the Northern Institute of Osteopathy in Minneapolis, the Reverend Mason W. 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 practicing osteopathist in the city.
Drs. Pressly and Snyder followed through with their vision in the late 1890s, incorporating Philadelphia College and Infirmary of Osteopathy (PCIO) on January 24, 1899. They rented two rooms in the Stephen Girard Building at 21 S. 12th Street—the first of many homes for the College—and opened the institution’s doors to students and patients. In September 1899, the first PCIO degree was awarded to a transfer student. The first PCIO class was composed of one woman and one male MD, and graduated in February 1900. It was not long before the early graduates formed the Alumni Association.
News of osteopathy spread quickly in Philadelphia. As the number of students and faculty grew, the College moved to larger quarters, establishing its first campus at 33rd and Arch Streets, a suburban neighborhood in West Philadelphia. In a mansion 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, the forerunner of the Osteopathic Hospital of Philadelphia. The College moved to 1715 N. Broad Street (1908-1912), then to 832 Pine Street in the city's Society Hill section, where a hospital would come to fruition at 410 S. Ninth Street.
After many prosperous years on Pine Street, PCIO bought its first building at 19th and Spring Garden Streets in 1916. The College, officially renamed Philadelphia College of Osteopathy (PCO) in 1921, added a new hospital to the rear and acquired two adjacent townhouses—one for additional classrooms and clinics, the other for a nurses’ home. 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.
Expanding 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 Great Depression. Times were tough, but with strong leadership from the board of directors and others, PCO weathered the storm. The 1930s was a time when the curriculum expanded, pre-osteopathic and graduate schools started and PCO created the profession’s first Department of Osteopathic Research. It was also a time when the clinics, known for their “booth doctors,” played an increasingly important role in providing health care to the 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 1950s. Medicine was becoming more specialized and complex, increasing the need for clinical training. In 1951, PCO acquired Women’s Homeopathic Hospital at 20th Street and Susquehanna Avenue, making it into a satellite facility called North Center Hospital. Many PCO medical students, nurses, interns and residents trained here.In keeping with the College's mission to train primary care physicians, PCOM opened a rural health care center in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, and several other health care centers in urban Philadelphia neighborhoods. The centers provide care to medically under served 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 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 former Moss Estate was acquired at City Avenue and Monument Road. The Frederic H. Barth Pavilion of the Hospitals of PCOM opened in 1968, and Evans Hall, the classroom, library and laboratory building, was completed in 1973.
An adjacent five-story office building (4190), acquired in 1977, was renovated into classrooms, laboratories and medical offices and later named Rowland Hall after PCOM’s fourth president. The renovations and shift of offices from Evans Hall to Rowland Hall enabled departments remaining at the 48th Street building to join the rest of the College. These changes—paired with the building of outpatient offices—supported the recruitment of additional clinical and faculty members. At the same time, new programs in osteopathic education were created, residency programs were expanded, and a School of Allied Health was established.
In tandem with the purchase and renovation of Rowland Hall, the institution took on a new name: The Osteopathic Medical Center of Philadelphia (OMCP). Although the Board of Trustees adopted the name in 1980, the official corporate name remained Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM). In 1990, the name was abandoned; PCOM was officially used.
In keeping with the College’s mission to train primary care physicians, PCOM opened a rural Healthcare Center in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, and three Healthcare Centers in urban Philadelphia neighborhoods. [Today, the Healthcare Centers provide care to medically underserved populations while acting as key sites for the clinical education of PCOM students from the DO, physician assistant and psychology programs.
The addition of non-DO academic programs to the curriculum starting in the early 1990s began a new era of diversification for PCOM. In 1993, the College launched a graduate program in biomedical sciences. Recognizing a need for primary care mental health providers, the College began a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology program in 1995. And in 1998, the College added a Master of Science in Health Sciences—Physician Assistant Studies program. Master’s degree programs in organizational development and leadership and forensic medicine were added in 2001 and 2002, respectively. In 2002, the Psychology Department expanded to include school psychology programs. Six dual-track degree programs were extended as options for students from the osteopathic medical program as well as students in the graduate programs and from partnering institutions. Strategic partnerships—from “home base” clinical teaching fellowship partnerships increased.
To expand and modernize its campus, PCOM embarked on an ambitious campus overhaul from 1995 to 1999. An Evans Hall addition was built to include a modern OMM lab, classrooms, Office of Admissions and cafeteria. Evans Hall, Rowland Hall and the Levin Administration Building were renovated, and landscaped greenery gave the College a true campus feeling. 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.
The College achieved another milestone in 1999, when it became accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. In 2014, PCOM received reaccreditation status, and will be reviewed again in the 2023-2024 academic year.
In 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 will accommodate future construction.
Master’s degree programs in organizational development and leadership and forensic medicine were added in 2001 and 2002, respectively. In 2002, the Psychology Department expanded to include school psychology programs. Six dual-track degree programs were extended as options for students from the osteopathic medical program as well as students in the graduate programs and from partnering institutions. Strategic partnerships—from “home base” clinical teaching fellowship partnerships increased.
The Center for Chronic Disorders of Aging, supported in part by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations, was created in 2003 to enhance basic science and clinical research at the College. In 2008, the Food and Allergy Research Initiative was created. In 2012, a chief scientific officer was appointed with the task of bolstering research processes and procedures and identifying research opportunities within the College and beyond.
Competency-based assessment as a method to train students was propelled by the College’s acquisition of a full-body, programmable human patient simulator, METI HPS, in 2003. Today, an 11,000-square-foot Clinical Learning and Assessment Center—a $2,352,000 leading-edge instructional technology and state-of-the-art management system—is the most recent investment for the training of future osteopathic physicians and health professionals.
In 2005, the College opened its branch campus, Georgia Campus – Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (GA-PCOM) in Suwanee, Georgia, with a focus on helping to fill the need for more healthcare professionals in the South. In 2009, the campus expanded to add PCOM School of Pharmacy – Georgia Campus. GA-PCOM offers professional doctoral degree programs in osteopathic medicine and pharmacy, and a master’s degree program in biomedical sciences. GA-PCOM is positioned for growth on many fronts.