New York State has 1′ medical schools and even Puerto Rico has three, but New Jersey has only one, the eight-campus scandal-dogged University of Medicine and Dentistry. But Touro College, a non-profit Jewish institution founded in 1970 by Rabbi Bernard Lander in New York, is poised to change that. On April 19, the state board of medical examiners approved its application 13-0 to open a medical school in a 75,000 square-foot building in Florham Park pledged by Charles Kushner, a real estate developer and philanthropist. (Kushner, convicted and imprisoned last year on charges of campaign and tax violations and retaliation against a witness, was recently released to a halfway house in Newark.)
The college’s next step, according to Dr. Shalom Hirschman, Touro’s senior adviser for medical affairs and medical science, is to apply for accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education of the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, the Orthodox Union’s director of kashrut and a member of Touro College’s board, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the proposed medical school would be "good for New Jersey, the nation, and medical research."
It’s good for New Jersey, he said, "because Touro is not asking for state funds," in contrast to UMDNJ, which is almost completely publicly funded. "Given the severe budgetary constraints," Genack added, and the fact that "the governor suggested cutting $150 million from higher education, this is actually a gift to New Jersey."
It’s good for the nation, he said, because there is "a tremendous shortage of physicians being produced here," a projected 85,000 fewer than needed by ‘0’0. "That’s why a lot of current doctors are foreign-trained," he said. "New Jersey has a higher percentage of foreign-trained doctors than the national average," Genack continued. And yet, he noted, major pharmaceutical firms are based in New Jersey. "This is a significant state. Both in terms of a regional requirements and a national requirement, we have to produce more physicians."
The proposed medical school would also be good for research, he said, because it would be on the cutting edge of stem cell and pharmaceutical research. "This medical school is being born in association with the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken," he said, "which is like an MIT in miniature in New Jersey. Touro is going to share faculty with them." There is also talk of offering a combined biomedical degree with Stevens, Genack went on.
Touro, which has ‘3 campuses across this country and eight others, is named for Judah Touro a 19th-century entrepreneur and philanthropist who was a major benefactor, with his brother Abraham, of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, the first synagogue in what would become the United States and where their father, Isaac, had been the cantor and religious leader.
But although Touro College is under Jewish sponsorship, Genack noted, it’s "not a school [solely] for Jews." The new medical school would set aside a certain number of slots for New Jersey students, and a selling point to the medical examiners’ board, Genack said, is that Touro is "interested in drawing minorities to the school." It is also hoping to open a medical school in Harlem, he added.
Still, he said, "Touro has a mission in terms of the Jewish community there will be a program for shomer Shabbos interns," which is "extremely rare . There’s only one medical school under Jewish auspices Albert Einstein Medical School of Yeshiva University."
"Einstein," he added, "is an extraordinary medical school that significantly increased the prestige of Yeshiva. Touro is hoping for a similar effect."
"There’s a whole Jewish [medical] ethic," says Touro’s Hirschman. It’s a particular "approach to human life . Medicine as a profession has been valued by the Jewish people from time immemorial. Even the priests in the Bible," he said, "were practicing medicine and if you look at the middle ages, some of the greatest physicians were not only of the Jewish faith but they were rabbis. The physicians to the popes were usually Jews. In this country the values for medical practice and humane care have flowered with the establishment [by Jews] of some of the world-class and greatest hospitals and medical centers."
Hirschman declined to say how much the school would cost, although the figure of $50 million has been circulating.
"We certainly hope for approval," he said, and for a first class to enter by ‘008. "A whole host of things" needs to be demonstrated to the accrediting agency: that there are "proper space and facilities, a curriculum, a faculty, and [sufficient] funds. "We believe that we can open this medical school, otherwise we would not have worked towards it."
Robert Torricelli has been a paid consultant to Touro during this process and addressed the state board of examiners on its behalf. "We needed someone who knew how to move from step to step," said Genack, a longtime friend of the former senator from New Jersey. "[We needed] someone who not only knew the process but who could help create it. They had to think through what should be the process of accreditation; the precedents are so ancient."