The Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg awarded its 2017 Professional Leadership Award to Dr. James Wolfe, Ph. D., founding president of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) on June 5th.
The award recognizes individuals who have gone beyond the boundaries of conventional professional success by demonstrating exceptional leadership and the development and implementation of programs beneficial to the community. The award has been made annually since 2000 to individuals in diverse professions such as technology, education, medicine, finance, and public safety.
VCOM was founded to address a critical shortage of medical professionals in Virginia, particularly primary care physicians in Southwest Virginia. Beginning in 2001 as VCOM’s Founding President, Dr. Wolfe and his team were responsible for facility plans and building, academic program planning, accreditation approvals, and the hiring of the initial faculty and staff for the medical school. The first class entered in Fall 2003 and graduated in 2007. Students are recruited from rural areas of Virginia, Western North Carolina, and the Appalachian Region with a shortage of physicians because those students are most likely to return to rural areas when they graduate. Of the 2,300 graduates since the founding of VCOM, 69% of the graduates are practicing in Southern Appalachia, helping to alleviate physician shortages in those areas.
Dr. Wolfe said that as a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech, he had many good students who were unable to get into medical school because of the limited spaces in Virginia’s schools. He accepted the position of Founding President of VCOM for the students: “The most satisfying thing has been to give young people the opportunity to learn and practice medicine.” Dr. Wolfe’s dedication to the students went beyond his administrative role, however. Ray Smoot, former CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation said, “Jim got to know everybody by name and provided that element of family to medical school,” while Dr. Wolfe’s wife Nancy, “mothered students who needed it.”
Dr. Wolfe has fostered VCOM partnerships in the local community. Christiansburg-Blacksburg Rotary Club President and LewisGale Hospital Montgomery CFO, Tim Haasken said, “Dr. Wolfe was a strong and respected voice in our hospital’s decision to begin an osteopathic residency program in 2008. VCOM’s medical students and its graduates who have completed their residency at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery have greatly benefited the quality of healthcare within our community.” Dr. Wolfe has also overseen the expansion of VCOM with the opening of the Carolina campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 2011 and the Alabama Campus in conjunction with Auburn University in 2015.
Dr. Wolfe is now the President Emeritus of VCOM, but still serves on VCOM’s Board of Directors. He is also a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, was the Chemistry Department Chair, and was the Vice Provost at Virginia Tech in addition to being the author of many publications, the principal investigator on many projects, and serving on national professional committees.
Founded in 1923, the motto of the Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg is “Service Above Self”. The Professional Leadership and Citizen of the Year Awards, the semi-annual blood screening event, youth development programs, and community projects as well as participation in Rotary International programs like PolioPlus and Group Study Exchanges exemplify this motto.