James Nemitz, Ph.D., stands as a beacon of dedication and commitment in the world of osteopathic medicine. As President of the West Virginia Osteopathic School, his journey has been one of profound impact in advancing the principles of osteopathic medicine but also in elevating the educational, medical and economic standards of West Virginia. His story, intertwined with his passion for holistic patient care and unwavering commitment to the community, is an inspiring one that has not only shaped the future of medical education in the state but has had a substantial economic and development impact on Greenbrier Valley.
[WVDN] When did you arrive in Greenbrier County, and what made you choose the county as your home?
I arrived in Greenbrier County in 1984. My reason for moving to Lewisburg was to bring my wife, Patty McClung Nemitz, home after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My father-in-law, Dr. Eugene McClung, convinced me that Greenbrier County would be the best place to care for Patty if her condition worsened (it did, Patty died of progressive MS 14 years ago at the age of 53), a great place to raise our daughter, Julianna, and eventually, I would fall in love with the place. So I took the biggest leap of faith in my life and walked away from my career as a medical educator and neuroscience researcher and moved to Lewisburg. I thought at the time I was throwing everything away out of love for my wife. In return, I ended up getting my dream job working at the best place I have ever worked, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), in the best place I have ever lived, Lewisburg in Greenbrier County, West Virginia!
[WVDN] Rumor has it you were offered several employment positions (including camp director of Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca in Caldwell) before you made your decision. What made you decide to join the Osteopathic School, and eventually become its President after 30 years of service?
My father-in-law started offering me jobs after I became engaged to his daughter. Patty was Dr. McClung’s only daughter, youngest child and was born on his 30th birthday – tell me she wasn’t special! The first job he offered me was probably the best, to be the director of Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca. It would have been a great job, but I did not see myself at that time living in West Virginia. When I finally made the leap of faith and moved my family to Lewisburg, there were no open positions at the “O” school and I knew nothing about osteopathic medicine since I had been trained at M.D. institutions, Medical College of Virginia and Yale University School of Medicine. I was very thankful that Dr. McClung employed me to work in his medical office; I look back on those days and recognize they were an important precursor to becoming a WVSOM faculty member and eventually president of the institution. Since I didn’t know if a position would open up in Anatomy (I have a Ph.D. in Anatomy with a neuroscience research background) at the school, Dr. McClung and I would spend hours exploring other opportunities for me including, selling real estate, I actually had a real estate license for a time and founding and running a local newspaper. Fortunately, one day I received a call from the WVSOM president at the time, Dr. Clyde Jensen, and he offered me a nine-month temporary contract with no guarantee of renewal. I remember telling my father-in-law about the offer, and he immediately said to me that if I didn’t take the job, I would regret it for the rest of my life. The rest is history. I turned a nine-month temporary job into a full-time career!
[WVDN] Why do you think osteopathic medicine is important for West Virginia, and how does it serve the community differently than traditional medical approaches?
Osteopathic medical students are taught a philosophy of care that is holistic and is focused on mind, body and spirit from the moment they walk through our doors. In addition, they are trained to use their hands in their assessment and treatment of the patient, in addition to all that is needed to be a fully licensed physician. The power of touch coupled with the latest knowledge of evidence-based treatments and compassionate hearts is a powerful form of medicine that I believe D.O.s provide their patients whether they are a family medicine physician in rural West Virginia or a neurosurgeon in one of our cities. While treating illness is a primary responsibility, D.O.s emphasize wellness and lifestyle strategies to prevent and address chronic illnesses. Osteopathic medicine also offers alternatives to alleviating pain without the use of medications that can become habit-forming. All of these characteristics of osteopathic medicine result in quality care for the patient. WVSOM has contributed significantly to addressing the healthcare needs of West Virginia. The school, just finishing its 50th year of its founding is a leading producer of physicians for the state, is the largest medical school in the state, and has an economic impact that is over 1.5 billion when you include the health care contributions of WVSOM alums and students.
[WVDN] Can you share a particularly memorable case, event or student that made a great impact on you, and how did that influence your resolve to create better access to medical treatments for West Virginians?
What has been very meaningful to me at WVSOM has been to see the impact my students have had on patients, including my own family members. One Easter Eve, one of my former students helped save my mother-in-law’s life in an emergency situation. On another occasion, I was standing in line at a Cracker Barrel in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to pay my bill, and the person in front of me starts talking about this amazing doctor who saved her husband’s life and then says his name and he is one of my former students! It doesn’t get better than that, to know that in a small way, you helped to address the healthcare needs of our neighbors, making a difference in their lives. As I go around the state as president, I hear all the time how appreciated our graduates are and how if it wasn’t for the “O” school they would not have medical care in their community. The vision of our founders 50 years ago to address the healthcare needs of our rural communities has been realized; WVSOM has populated many, if not most of the small towns of our state. The school is a leading producer of physicians for the state and continues to make a significant difference in addressing the healthcare needs of West Virginians.
[WVDN] What advice would you give someone interested in becoming an Osteopathic practitioner?
I would encourage the person to contact the school to schedule a visit to our campus in beautiful Lewisburg. A tour of the campus can be arranged through several offices including, the president’s, HR and Admissions. Seeing the campus firsthand is the best way to learn about osteopathic medicine, and how to become an osteopathic physician. I also encourage everyone to visit our website at www.wvsom.edu, as well as our social media platforms. Preparation for applying to our osteopathic medical program is rigorous and requires meeting specific admissions criteria. Our admission staff would be glad to provide detailed information regarding our requirements for admission. I also encourage everyone to attend events offered by the school to the public.
[WVDN] If you could go back in time and spend an hour with any West Virginian from history, who would it be, and what burning question would you ask them?
I would like to spend an hour with the Rev. Ross McClung, who was Patty’s grandfather and a Methodist minister, affectionally referred to as “Preacher.” For me, he was “Grandad” and was the only grandparent I have ever known (all of my grandparents died before I was born), and the only person I have known well who was born in the 1800s. Grandad was a memorable preacher who made a difference in the southern West Virginia coalfields and was a legendary storyteller. I loved hearing his stories of preaching, living, fishing and hunting in the old days. I would love to hear his perspective on our world as it is in 2023 and hear the old stories once again. It is important to remember our past as we move forward into our future.
Finally, I would like to say that while I remember Patty every day, life goes on, and I am now honored to spend the next chapter in my life with my wife, Nancy Bulla, and our children and grandchildren, living in Greenbrier Valley! I hope I never have to leave!
About The Greenbrier County Hero
Greenbrier County Hero is a weekly column highlighting interesting people living in Greenbrier County. The column was originally named “Meet a Greenbrier Countian” which ran in The West Virginia Daily News for multiple decades. If you know of a person or organization that embodies the spirit of humanitarian service, volunteerism and/or has exceptional talent, please, let us know! Send your nominations to email@example.com.
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