Rowan University, RowanSOM, and Rowan College of South Jersey leadership, along with members of the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders and NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney (third from left), celebrate the proposed expansion of the medical school with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Friday, Sept. 13. - Photo Via Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine

The Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) received a $1.68 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest philanthropy organization dedicated solely to health, on Oct. 19.

RowanSOM has a campus in Stratford, New Jersey. However, the new campus location in Sewell is the RWJF grant’s specific target, and for a good reason. The grant serves as the “working capital” or initial operating cost of RowanSOM-Sewell.

According to RowanSOM, the Sewell campus building will be two stories and have 55,000 square feet. Facility space is split about equally between medical research and a clinical center. 

The dean of RowanSOM and fellow of the American College of Physicians (ACP) Thomas A. Cavalieri, DO, stated that RowanSOM-Sewell could have a direct impact on communities in South Jersey that are starving for health services.

Cavalieri went as far as to say that with a collaborative effort from various health institutions, schools and the government, they could “transform the health status of South Jersey.” 

“In South Jersey, the rates of cancer, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and even drug abuse are some of the highest in the region. The report card for the health status of South Jersey is not good. So by expanding our school to that area, it enables us to train more physicians who will serve that area and provide clinical services that respond to the needs of a community,” Cavalieri said. 

South Jersey isn’t just suffering from bad health; there is a crucial lack of physicians, especially in primary care. 

The Robert Graham Center (RGC) publishes research on a range of issues that impact primary care. In September 2013, they released a comprehensive study entitled “New Jersey: Projecting Primary Care Physician Workforce.” 

“New Jersey Projected Primary Care Physicians Need,” 2010-2030. – Chart via New Jersey:
Projecting Primary Care Physician Workforce, The Robert Graham Center

The study determined that New Jersey will need an additional 1,116 primary care physicians (PCP) by 2030, a 17% increase compared to the state’s workforce at the time (2010). 

Cavalieri believes RowanSOM is in a position to alleviate some of the state’s PCP needs. Starting in March 2021, the RowanSOM-Sewell campus will provide integrated primary care and behavioral health services for residents of Gloucester, Salem, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

One of the primary care services RowanSOM-Sewell will provide is the Rowan Integrated Special Needs (RISN) Center. The RISN Center is South Jersey’s first primary care practice dedicated to serving the needs of individuals with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The integrated learning experience can help provide health services to communities while training future physicians. However, New Jersey may have to try hard to convince its medical students to stay.  

According to the 2019 New Jersey Physician Workforce Profile by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), New Jersey ranked in the bottom half of all states in retaining medical students.

“Most of our students are from New Jersey (85%), and many are from the southern part of the state,” Cavalieri said. “One thing that we know is that if you come from your state, you go to medical school in your state, you are likely to practice right there. We want to train great physicians who are compassionate, whose goal is to treat the whole person, treat them well and have them stay right there to improve the health status of South Jersey.” 

RowanSOM-Sewell will not open all at once. Instead, the partial opening, set for March 2021, will include six health care programs on the first floor. According to Cavalieri, some of these programs will be clinical services, patient care services, special needs services, family medicine and substance abuse programs. 

Cavalieri also stated that he believes there are sufficient resources to warrant the medical school’s accrediting body to expand RowanSOM and make it the largest medical school in New Jersey. 

“This would make us the largest medical school in the state, eventually; 275 students per class,” Cavalieri said. “It would go from 200 per class to 275.”

Rowan is one of only three universities in the nation with medical schools granting both a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and a Doctorate of Medicine (MD). 

It’s important to note that RowanSOM offers a DO, while the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University grants students an MD. 

“In osteopathic medicine, we take a holistic approach to healthcare. We talk about treating the whole person; mind, body and spirit. The emphasis is not just treating disease, but treating the whole patient,” Cavalieri said.

According to the 2019 Osteopathic Medicine Report, the DO philosophy of mind, body and spirit aligns well with primary care specialties. It found that nearly 57% of DOs practice in primary care, partnering with patients and their families throughout every stage of their lives.

“We are really excited for this, and it’s a dream we’ve had for quite a while. I have to say our building is coming along very nicely, and it’s going to be state of the art. It’s an opportunity to work closely with the Rowan College of South Jersey, where they have a number of health-related programs there so that medical students could also train with students of other healthcare disciplines,” Cavalieri said.

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