Smyth County

Emory & Henry celebrates health program expansion

MARION, Va. - There will soon be some new options for college students in our area, and those changes could also mean a big economic boost for the region.

Southwest Virginia's Emory & Henry College is expanding with a new school of health sciences. It has already forged an important partnership in the process.

Administrators at Emory & Henry spent the morning celebrating over teaming up with Smyth County and the Town of Marion. The school has acquired the old Smyth County Community Hospital building. "One of the things small, rural colleges have to do is they have to have partnerships and collaborations, and this seemed so natural for us," Emory & Henry President Jake Schrum says.

The school just announced Wednesday that the new position of Dean has been filled. Lou Fincher has 30 years of health professional experience, and she comes to southwest Virginia from the University of Texas.

She said people in this area helped with her decision. "The level of community support, that was really attractive in looking at this position," Fincher says.

She already has a long to-do list. School leaders are trying to get accreditation for the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program by this fall. They hope to have the first students in the building by January of 2015. "I would say within five years, we will have the building renovated and multiple programs up and running," Fincher added.

Some of the additional programs will train students to be occupational therapists and physician's assistants, but those involved say it's not just about academics.  "I think it'll be an economic boost for us. I think it'll bring a lot more young people into town who will get involved in a lot more of the decision-making in the town," Marion mayor David Helms says.

Emory & Henry leaders say it's continuing the College's style of education. "Emory & Henry, because of its contributions to communities around Southwest Virginia, is now going to be able to make those contributions in the health sciences now," President Jake Schrum says.

Once fully functional, Fincher says the program will be made up of around 300 students and 30 faculty members.

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