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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – Organizers in one Oklahoma community say they are preparing for the official opening of the nation’s first tribally-affiliated medical school.

In October of 2018, OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation announced that they were working together to establish the nation’s first college of medicine to be located on the campus of a tribal health facility in Tahlequah.

Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation will make history on Friday by holding the first iconic ‘white coat’ ceremony.

“Today we celebrate a momentous milestone and a historic moment for the Cherokee Nation, for our friends at Oklahoma State University, and for our first class of 54 students who are officially entering the medical profession,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “As we mark the official opening of the first tribally-affiliated medical school in the United States, we know that we will one day look back on this day and what will matter most is whether our efforts have changed lives for the better. I believe that this partnership will advance quality health care for all by allowing us to teach a new generation of medical professionals to serve our communities for years to come. I wish each and every student the best as they begin this journey. They have our full support.”

The ceremony, in partnership with the Cherokee Nation, is the first step for the inaugural class of 54 first-year medical students.

“This ceremony is the historic beginning of a new era in training physicians for our rural communities. These 54 medical students represent the fulfillment of many dreams over many years; to create a medical school in partnership with the largest tribal nation in the heart of Indian Country,” said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president and OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine dean. “The students can attend medical school, complete their residency training, and practice medicine – all right there in Tahlequah under the auspices of both OSU Medicine and the Cherokee Nation. I can’t think of a better way to attract and train primary care physicians for rural and underserved Oklahoma.”

Officials say construction is ongoing at the new, state-of-the-art facility of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, which is on the campus of the W.W. Hastings Hospital.

Temporary classrooms have been established at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center while construction on the new medical school continues.

The 84,000-square-foot medical school building will include an anatomy laboratory, clinical skills lab, osteopathic manipulative medicine lab, standardized patient labs and a simulation center that will feature state-of-the-art computer programmable manikins. There will also be lecture halls, classrooms, faculty offices, study carrels and a gym/workout area.

Construction, which was delayed during the pandemic, is expected to be finished in December 2020.