A LEAP OF FAITH
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Brian Kessler, DO | Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs
Graduate of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine ('94)
BY BILLY LIGGETT, PHOTO BY BRYAN REAGAN
Students fortunate enough to be in the charter class or even the first few classes of a new medical school go on to do great things, says Dr. Brian Kessler.
They become leaders in the profession. They become innovators of their practice.
“Up until that first class graduates and proves themselves, every student who enrolls at a new school is taking a leap of faith,” says Kessler. “It’s easier to go to an established school. It takes courage to be part of something new … to set the tone for classes to come.”
Kessler tells this to the students who’ll make up the charter class of Campbell University’s new School of Osteopathic Medicine, and he’ll tell it to next year’s class and the following year’s as well. And he firmly believes every word of it, because about 20 years ago, he was a wide-eyed risk-taker enrolling at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine as a member of its second class.
“I think the experiences I learned going to a new school … they gave me the ability to take on challenges I normally wouldn’t have taken on,” says Kessler, Campbell’s associate dean of clinical affairs and professor.
A native of Delaware who moved to central Pennsylvania during his teens, Kessler earned a degree in biology from tiny St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. After graduation, he chose to attend LECOM, a free-standing school not under any university or college umbrella. Unlike Campbell, which has built a reputation with strong professional schools over the last 25-plus years, Lake Erie was unchartered territory.
“I got a lot of criticism from friends in college for choosing a new school with no reputation,” Kessler recalls. “That’s why I use the cliche, ‘leap of faith.’ I have no better way to describe it. It was close enough to home, yet far enough away, and my father helped me research it going in. Now today, LECOM is considered one of the top-tier osteopathic medical schools in the country and one of the largest med schools overall in terms of number of students.”
At LECOM, he met his wife, Ioanna, who was in the following year’s class. In his first year of residency, Kessler moved to Cleveland to be near Ioanna’s family and became a resident with Southpoint Hospital, a multi-speciality academic medical center affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic. Upon graduation, he started a clinical practice with the Cleveland Clinic and eventually transferred to University Hospitals in Cleveland. The director of medical education at UH at the time was one Dr. John Kauffman, the future founding dean at Campbell who would one day hire Kessler to help launch North Carolina’s first medical school in 35 years.
“I didn’t know Dr. Kauffman well at the time, but I’m pretty sure we had met,” Kessler says.
Kessler left UH and returned to the Cleveland Clinic Southpoint as director of medical education, and before long, Kauffman was recruiting him to join the administration at a medical school in Virginia. Kessler declined twice … the second time after bringing his family to Virginia to visit one of the towns where he was up for DME at a hospital under Kauffman.
Kessler laughs as he recalls the story of taking his wife, mother and young children to a local restaurant during the trip. His son preferred the Chick-fil-A next door, so Kessler ran over there to grab his food while his family waited and ordered. When he returned, his family was in tears.
“Keep in mind, the town was struggling economically … and the waitress comes up to my family and says, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’” Kessler says. “They tell her no, and the waitress responds, ‘You don’t want to be here, you don’t want to live here … get out while you can.’ Needless to say, I didn’t take the job.”
Kessler and his family found no such warnings when Kauffman contacted him about Campbell a few years back. His family found North Carolina to be friendly and charming, and Kessler fell in love with Campbell instantly. The move was not only the right move for Kessler’s career, but for his family as well. Ioanna, who in 2006 was named the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine Family Physician of the Year, now works with WakeMed and will be a part-time faculty member at Campbell. Their children, ages 9 and 11, are adjusting well and the family has found a home in Fuquay-Varina that they love.
Life is good for Brian Kessler and the Kessler family. And he’s ready to get this new medical school going.
“I want to make an impact on these students and their careers,” he says. “I had great role models growing up and early in my career. I want to be a positive role model, too.”