New Jersey’s newest medical school will welcome its first class of students in less than six weeks with a program designed to help fill a growing gap in the state’s healthcare workforce and prepare future physicians well-versed in population health and community care.
Gov. Phil Murphy joined federal, state, and local elected leaders and healthcare officials yesterday to cut a ribbon on the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, New Jersey’s fifth medical school and the first private physicians college to open in 50 years. The school was created on the onetime corporate campus of international drug giant Hoffmann-La Roche, on the border of Nutley and Clifton.
The Seton Hall program will feature an innovative curriculum designed to help doctors navigate the ongoing changes in the industry, including the shift from fee-for-service payments — in which they are paid for each treatment — to value-based care, which rewards healthy outcomes. This involves a focus on preventing and controlling chronic diseases, which can reduce costs and improve patient wellbeing.
This shift also requires a better understanding of the communities served and the social and economic barriers to good health, and depends on appropriate and culturally competent care. To reduce the divide between providers and patients, the Hackensack Meridian Health Board of Trustees established a $100 million endowment to provide scholarships that can help attract a more diverse student body to the new medical school.
The program, which begins July 9 with 60 students — selected from 2,000 applicants — also aims to restock the ranks of New Jersey’s healthcare professionals. Hackensack Meridian Health’s co-CEO Robert Garrett warned there could be a shortage of 3,000 doctors here by 2020 and experts worry there are not enough medical students in the pipeline to fill that gap.
Train in NJ, practice in NJ
“If we train new doctors in New Jersey, they are far more likely to practice here. Now we have this excellent facility to complement our other medical schools,” Murphy said. He called the program a “heartbeat that pumps new life” into the region and the state’s economy at large.
Murphy also praised the board’s effort to create the endowment “to ensure the doors to a medical education are available and open to all who qualify.”
A study published last year by the New Jersey Hospital Association found that the pending physician shortage is driven, in part, by the fact that one in three Garden State doctors are already over age 60 — the third highest percentage in the nation. But the limited number of medical schools makes it a challenge to replace these providers; Pennsylvania has 63.5 medical students per 100,000 residents, New York has 51.5 and New Jersey has 24.4, the 37th lowest state ratio nationwide.
“Not only is New Jersey’s population aging, our physician workforce is as well,” NJHA president and CEO Cathy Bennett said. “We welcome the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University and the important role it will play in growing the physician workforce of New Jersey’s future.”
High cost, heavy regulation
Ironically, New Jersey has a robust roster of medical residency programs, with 43 of the state’s 71 acute-care hospitals training future physicians — a higher proportion than nearly any other state, the NJHA research found. But the Garden State has a relatively low number of actual medical residents — 32.2 per 100,000 people vs. 61.6 in Pennsylvania and 81.5 in New York. In part, that’s because of the high cost and the heavy regulatory burden associated with practicing here.
The existing four medical schools in the Garden State include two that are part of Rutgers University — Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, and Rutgers Robert wood Johnson Medical School, in New Brunswick. Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, opened nearly four decades ago in Stratford, and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, in Camden, launched in 2012.
The new program combines the work of Seton Hall University, a 162-year old Catholic college that has more than 90 academic programs at its South Orange campus, with Hackensack Meridian Health, one of the largest healthcare networks in the state, covering 16 hospitals and more than 6,500 physicians. (Hackensack Meridian Health is the result of the merger of the Hackensack University Health Network and Meridian Health, completed in 2016.)
The Nutley/Clifton campus will also become home to Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing and its School of Health and Medical Sciences, which are now based in South Orange. Some nursing students may take classes at both locations.
Less time than average to earn degree
Medical school tuition is around $60,000 a year, officials said, not including the cost of off-campus housing and other living expenses. The medical degree program — which received national accreditation earlier this year — involves a three-year core curriculum, which is shorter than most and therefore less costly. Students can then start their residencies and may chose to return for a fourth year to receive a master’s degree.
“We have created a rigorous academic curriculum that combines traditional science with a focus on the new frontiers in medicine — prevention, population health, genetics and team-based care delivered in the community setting,’’ said Seton Hall University’s interim president Mary Meehan.
Through the program, students will develop partnerships with families in underserved communities and “shadow” them to better understand the challenges they face in staying healthy. This reflects a growing focus in healthcare on the social determinants of health, or the significant impact that factors like quality food and transportation to care, can have outcomes.
“Our goal is to improve health outcomes in all of the communities we serve and we can do that by teaching future physicians to take a more holistic approach,’’ said Dr. Bonita Stanton, founding dean of new school of medicine. “We are humanizing health care.’’