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Xavier University of Louisiana unveils name of forthcoming medical school with Ochsner Health

Xavier Ochsner College of Medicine is still years from accepting students, but stakeholders gathered for a signing ceremony this week in New Orleans.

Xavier University of Louisiana president Dr. Reynold Verret, seated center left, shakes hands with Ochsner Health CEO Pete November on April 29, 2024, at Benson Tower in New Orleans. The ceremony marked the official beginnings of the Xavier Ochsner College of Medicine, whose founding dean Dr. Leonardo Seoane can be seen directly behind November. (XULA/Twitter)

Xavier University of Louisiana has announced new details for its forthcoming medical school, which will be the first such Catholic institution in the Deep South and the sixth for an HBCU.

The newly named Xavier Ochsner College of Medicine (XOCOM), a partnership with Ochsner Health, was touted officially on Monday afternoon in New Orleans in a livestreamed signing celebration led by XULA president Dr. Reynold Verret.

“[We] will seek to address long-standing healthcare injustices and foster more robust, healthier communities in pursuit of that vision to promote a more just and humane society, as given to us by St. Katharine Drexel more than 100 years ago,” said Verret, who will serve on the board for XOCOM.

Verret also announced the founding dean of the new medical school, the Cuban-born Dr. Leonardo Seoane, who currently serves as executive vice president and chief academic officer of Ochsner Health. At the ceremony, he spoke of the glaring need for more action to combat health inequities in the Black community and beyond.

“Our mission to train physicians who represent the communities they serve is critically urgent, the facts are alarming, and the truth is that there has been no significant progress over the last 30 years,” Seoane said.

“While Hispanics make up 19% of the population, we only make up 6.9% of the physicians. And while Black and African Americans make up 14% of the population, they only make up 5.7% of the physicians. As we are facing this incredible physician shortage of up to 86,000 physicians—a Superdome full of physicians—by 2036, it is more urgent than ever to form this medical school.”

Stakeholders and alumni joined Verret and Seoane on stage to speak of the importance of the new med school collaboration, including XULA alums U.S. Rep. Troy Carter Sr. of Louisiana, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, XULA board chair Justin Augustine, Ochsner board chair Andy Wisdom, and XOCOM board member and physician Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell.

XOCOM, first announced in 2022, will be located in the Biodistrict, a new economic development zone approved by the City of New Orleans in the Central Business District. The school will be in Benson Tower, owned by one of the city's premier Catholic philanthropists, Gayle Benson—heir to the multi-billion fortune of her late husband, Tom Benson.

She was on hand Monday for the ceremony, held at Benson Tower, to express her excitement about the new development for XULA, a university she has supported financially over the years.

“As a native of New Orleans, I am very grateful for the incredible impact Ochsner Health and Xavier University have on our city and our region. I am so delighted to commemorate the latest milestone in the establishment of [XOCOM],” Benson said. 

“I am particularly excited that the college will be housed in Benson Tower and serve as a job-creating medical college of excellence contributing to the vibrancy and continued growth of the Biodistrict and downtown New Orleans.”

XULA says it will seek approval for XOCOM from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, a process expected to last for approximately three years. The school plans to seat 50 students in its inaugural class, the date for which has not been announced.

As it approaches its 2025 centennial, Xavier’s reputation for excellence in the medical field has continued steadily, with the school ranking first among all U.S. colleges and universities for Black graduates who go on to complete terminal degrees in the health sciences.

XOCOM will likely be the fifth HBCU medical school when it opens, joining those at Howard University in Washington, Morehouse College in Atlanta, and Meharry Medical College in Nashville. Morgan State University in Baltimore is slated to open its new medical school in 2025—the first for an HBCU in nearly half a century.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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