Eager to expand and flush with cash, the nation’s largest Jewish university plans to open a private medical school in Bergen County in late 2009.
Touro College — started by a rabbi and professor as a no-frills institution with 35 students in a Manhattan office building in 1970 — has grown rapidly to 27 locations in four states and four other countries.
Now, bolstered by the profits from the $190 million sale of its online university, Touro is opening the first new medical school in New Jersey in decades. It recently opened a medical school in Harlem.
Touro will be affiliated with Hackensack University Medical Center. The college is weighing two locations for its fourth medical school: a six-story building on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights it recently purchased for $15 million and the bankrupt Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood.
“The M.D. program we are establishing in New Jersey is committed to filling a need in the state for superior medical education and scientific research,” said Bernard Lander, 92, Touro’s founder. He is president of the college, which has 17,500 students in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in medicine, law and business.
Touro’s earlier attempts to expand into New Jersey were sidetracked by scandals. In the summer of 2004, its major financial backer, Charles Kushner, was arrested on federal charges that included hiring a prostitute in a scheme to tamper with an FBI witness.
Weeks later, the college found itself in the middle of the Gov. James E. McGreevey-Golan Cipel affair. Cipel, one of the school’s paid advisers, reportedly offered to keep his sexual encounters with McGreevey secret if, among other things, the governor let Touro open a medical school.
The school denied any knowledge of or involvement in Cipel’s offer.
In 2006, with former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli lobbying state officials on Touro’s behalf, Touro won approval from the state board of medical examiners and seemed to be on its way to Florham Park. Kushner, who was about to be released from prison, was to give the school land and $10 million.
The school never materialized. Kushner is still listed as a member of Touro College’s “board of overseers” but he is inactive, said Touro spokeswoman Barbara Franklin. He does not attend meetings, she said.
“Mr. Kushner is not financially supporting the New Jersey effort,” said David A. Moss, vice president of institutional development at Touro.
“This issue with Golan Cipel is behind us,” he said.
New Jersey needs a new medical school because it is not graduating enough doctors, said Dr. Paul Wallach, vice president and dean of Touro University College of Medicine of New Jersey.
“There’s a general agreement that we’re in need of more doctors,” said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, a professor of preventive medicine at State University of New York at Stony Brook.
New Jersey’s three medical schools — which operate as the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey — graduated 400 doctors last year. UMDNJ is located on four campuses and operates University Hospital in Newark. The school plans to enroll 10 percent more students over the next few years to address the need to train more physicians in-state, said Dr. Robert Johnson, dean of the Medical School of New Jersey.
Johnson cautions that Touro’s arrival will add to a crunch in clinical training spots at hospitals throughout the state. He was one of three UMDNJ officials who testified against Touro’s application before the state Board of Medical Examiners last year.
“My big concern is the availability of clinical sites for teaching medical students,” he said.
But Dr. Peter Gross, chief medical officer at Hackensack University Medical Center, said the new medical school will not crowd out the other teaching programs at the hospital.
“The New Jersey Medical School students can continue to spend time here, even with Touro,” he said.
Touro and Hackensack plan to bid jointly for the ailing Pascack Valley Hospital. They are one of several potential suitors for the hospital and its 20-acre property.
Although the school is founded under Jewish auspices and avoids scheduling classes on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays, Touro students are from many backgrounds and faiths, Wallach said.
Touro has selected locations for its medical schools in areas that are suffering from a dearth of doctors. Lander describes himself in published reports as coming from “an old school of Ortho- dox socialists who believe that healing the entire world is an integral part of Judaism.”
In September, Touro opened a medical school in Harlem with a special emphasis on training minority doctors. Graduates will be encouraged to stay in the area. Another medical school, near Las Vegas, is also comparatively young.
A third school — an osteopathic school on an island in San Francisco Bay — has been open 10 years. According to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, it had an acceptance rate among applicants of 10.8 percent, compared with the 6.3 percent acceptance rate at UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. The average score on the entrance exam for both medical schools was the same.
However, Touro has the distinction, according U.S. News, of its students incurring the most debt through four years of medical school: $182,000 for the class of 2005.
Edelman questioned the rapid growth in medical education. “It’s disconcerting to have all these sites,” he said. “How can they be assured of excellence in all of the locations?”
Edelman said the Touro name is recognized for its law school and graduate programs. It has a law school on Long Island and a college of arts and sciences with campuses in three boroughs of New York City. The college also has sites in Moscow, Jerusalem, Berlin, South Miami and outside Rome.
“They’re not listed among the top 20 law schools, but a lot of Long Island politicians got their degrees there,” Edelman said.
Gross and Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, chairman of Hackensack’s urology department, are aiding Touro in the application for accreditation by the American Medical Association’s Liaison Committee for Medical Education. If Touro succeeds in the rigorous process, it will welcome its first class of 40 students in the fall of 2009. The school could grow to 400 students, Wallach said.
Unlike Touro’s plan for New Jersey, its three other schools are not M.D. programs. They train osteopathic physicians, who emphasize preventative health.
A former dean of the University of Florida Medical School at Tampa, Wallach said he’s creating a curriculum for the North Jersey campus that includes early emphasis on clinical training. Rather than spending their first two years solely in the classroom and labs, Touro’s students will interact with patients from the beginning, he said.
“I think they will invest what it takes to make it an excellent school,” Gross said. “They’re willing to recruit outstanding faculty.”
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