Touro moves forward with New Jersey medical school

Touro moves forward with New Jersey medical school

America doesn’t have enough doctors and that is fueling a shortage around the world, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, a board member of Touro University College of Medicine.

Poorer countries are paid to train doctors who, after a while, immigrate to the United States while leaving their native countries lacking in medical care.

Touro University president Dr. Bernard Lander

"America, because of its own needs, is absorbing them," said Genack, an Englewood resident who is kashrut administrator for the Orthodox Union. "They come to the U.S. to fill this gap. Producing more high-quality doctors will help not only American health care but enhance medical care around the globe."

Touro’s planned medical school in northern New Jersey will help combat this problem by creating more homegrown doctors, Genack said, as well as competing with The University of Medicine and Dentistry, which has long held a monopoly on medical education in New Jersey. The non-profit private Jewish institution, now affiliated with Hackensack University Medical Center, plans to open the state’s second medical school sometime in the fall of ‘009.

Touro has bought a 1’0,000-square-foot six-story building on Route 17 South in Hasbrouck Heights to house the school, said Dr. Paul Wallach, vice president for allopathic medicine and dean of the planned medical school. Because of the school’s timeline for getting the school operational, its leaders want a pre-existing building that can be retrofitted for their needs. Wallach expects renovations to begin within six months to make the building — which previously housed an array of offices — suitable for classrooms, clinical skill centers, and faculty offices.

The Hasbrouck Heights building is insufficient for a campus, though, said Dr. Shalom Hirschman, Touro’s senior vice president for academic affairs. Once the school is operational, Touro plans to establish a major biomedical research center on a campus, but that will likely not be in Hasbrouck Heights.

The first step is to get the medical school off the ground, he said. Plans for the research center would follow, but Hirschman would not commit to a timeline.

The school has received approval from the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners to obtain authorizations to begin operations. It is now awaiting accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education of the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges. Administrators hope to receive notice of approval by the summer, at which time they can begin recruiting students.

Wallach hopes for a first-year class size of 40 and, over the course of several years, for the class size to grow to100, making a total student body of 400.

"The creation of this medical school has been one of the dreams of our president," Dr. Bernard Lander, Wallach said. "He has seen the development of this school in New Jersey as one of his prime achievements."

UMDNJ is the only medical school operating in New Jersey, motivating Touro to move forward.

"There’s a greater need for another medical school in New Jersey than in New York, which has 1′," Lander said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "New Jersey was in desperate need of a new medical school."

Last year, Touro’s board of directors had planned to open the new school in Florham Park, but after entering an agreement with HUMC, Touro’s leaders decided to move the school as close to Hackensack as possible.

"Over the past number of years we evaluated where we wanted to be with regard to a clinical affiliate," Wallach said. "We chose Hackensack University Medical Center because of its outstanding reputation in the state."

The New Jersey state board of medical examiners approved the school’s application last year to open in Florham Park in a building donated by real estate developer and philanthropist Charles Kushner, a member of Touro’s board of directors. While he is still a supporter of the school, he is no longer considered a land donor, since the school is looking to build in the Hackensack area, where Kushner does not own a significant amount of property, said Lander.

Kushner was convicted and imprisoned last year on charges of campaign and tax violations and retaliation against a witness. He was later released to a halfway house in Newark.

In addition to zoning problems, the Florham Park plan was dealt a major blow when Touro’s board decided to affiliate with Hackensack, which Lander described as "possibly the finest hospital in New Jersey."

While he could not comment on the exact amount, Wallach said that the necessary funds to create the new school, including the renovations and operating budget, would be provided by the Touro system until the school can develop its own funding sources from tuition and donors.

A high-quality medical school requires at least $80 million to $100 million in start-up costs, Lander said. He expects the funds for the new school to come from two sources: the institution’s own funds and the philanthropic community.

"I have a big job coming up as a shnorrer," he said.

Touro has ‘3 campuses across the United States and eight other countries. It is named for Judah Touro, a 19th-century entrepreneur and philanthropist who was a major benefactor of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. Lander founded the medical school in 1970 in New York bearing his name.

Although Touro is open to any medical student and non-Jewish students do not feel excluded, Jewish values — such as the sanctity of life and treating everybody with respect — are "part of the underpinning" of the school, Wallach said.

"These are values intrinsic to Jewish life and work beautifully as well with what we’re trying to do in our medical school," Wallach said.

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