Ground broken for Camden medical school

John P. Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of Cooper Health System, speaks at the ground-breaking ceremony for Cooper Medical School, behind a cake model of the new building.
John P. Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of Cooper Health System, speaks at the ground-breaking ceremony for Cooper Medical School, behind a cake model of the new building.
Posted: October 28, 2010

The new Cooper Medical School in Camden will be both an economic boost to the city and a step toward improving the state's health care, Gov. Christie said at a ceremony Wednesday to celebrate the facility's official ground-breaking.

"This is another extraordinary step forward for the revitalization" of Camden, Christie said. "It will mean drawing more people and more businesses and a greater sense of hope to this city."

Construction of the four-year institution, to be a part of Rowan University and affiliated with Cooper University Hospital, began earlier this month. The project is estimated to cost $130 million.

Approved by Gov. Jon S. Corzine last year, the school is intended to help address a shortage of doctors in the region. Medical school slots should expand by 30 percent nationwide to address the country's increasing health needs, the Association of American Medical Colleges has said.

"New Jersey has a very healthy supply of physicians compared to other parts of the country," said Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. The state ranks ninth in the country in physicians per capita, according to the American Medical Association.

"But there are places [in the state] with insufficient supply, and a lot of those places are in South Jersey," Cantor said.

Gloucester and Burlington Counties fall below the national average of physicians per capita, according to a 2007 Rutgers study.

Cooper Medical School hopes to train physicians who will stay in South Jersey, said Paul Katz, its recently named dean. It will encourage students to enter the field of primary care, an area in which there is a dearth of doctors nationwide.

There are increasing initiatives to get students into primary care rather than higher-paying specialties, including a provision under the federal health-care overhaul. Cooper Medical School is in talks with the Medical Society of New Jersey to establish a loan-forgiveness program for graduates who practice in state, regardless of their specialty, Katz said.

"There are needs across the board," he said.

The school is set to welcome its first class of 50 students in the summer of 2012, which puts it on a tight construction and accreditation schedule. A two-year program currently run in Camden by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is scheduled to close in 2014, according to a Rowan spokesman.

Once fully operational, Cooper Medical School expects to receive $27.9 million a year in state funding, according to the spokesman.

Wednesday's ceremony - under a white tent at Benson Street and Broadway, where the school's six-story building will be - offered South Jersey political figures from Camden Mayor Dana Redd to state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) the chance to make speeches on the impact the school is expected to have.

And one after another their praise returned to Cooper Hospital's chairman, George Norcross 3d, the powerful South Jersey Democratic power broker who was absent due to an illness, according to the hospital.

"Nobody has worked as hard to make sure this happened," Christie said. "Believe me. I've been on the receiving end of some of these conversations."


Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.

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