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Rowan pursues Atlantic City medical school campus

Rowan University is preparing to take the first steps toward creating a medical school campus in Atlantic City, extending the footprint of its growing medical programs and potentially tapping a new student base there.

Rowan University is preparing to take the first steps toward creating a medical school campus in Atlantic City, extending the footprint of its growing medical programs and potentially tapping a new student base there.

Rowan trustees are set to vote Wednesday on a feasibility study to explore an Atlantic City partnership between the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and AtlantiCare. Trustees will vote on awarding a contract to the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Tripp Umbach to conduct the study "to understand the impacts associated with a potential four-year branch campus of a medical school," according to the agenda for Wednesday's board meeting.

"We've probably been talking for about a year at this point, and it's reached the point where we felt that it was necessary to have a feasibility study," said Ken Blank, the senior vice president for health sciences at Rowan University, whose responsibilities include oversight of both the Stratford-based osteopathic medicine school and Camden-based Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

Blank said the Atlantic City program would be smaller than the main one in Stratford, which Rowan also is trying to expand. He said there was no deadline to complete the study.

A medical school campus in Atlantic City would be Rowan's first established presence there.

The cost of the feasibility study will be evenly shared by Rowan and AtlantiCare, according to the resolution. Ali A. Houshmand, president of Rowan University, has said that the university is interested in opening a branch campus of its osteopathic medical school in the Atlantic City area.

"You don't just go into an area, you really need to establish a relationship with a partner, somebody who has common goals, somebody who shares the issues surrounding medical education, and that's what we've been talking to AtlantiCare about," Blank said.

AtlantiCare describes itself as the largest health-care group and non-casino employer in the Atlantic City area. It has a 567-bed teaching hospital, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, with campuses in Atlantic City and Pomona.

"We have discussed creating educational opportunities in Atlantic City with Rowan," an AtlantiCare spokeswoman wrote in an email Monday. "A feasibility study would be the next step in evaluating the viability of such a program."

Medical programs and health sciences have become a major focus for Rowan as Houshmand seeks to improve the university's standing in South Jersey by increasing enrollment, academic offerings, and partnerships across the region.

Just a few years ago, the university had no medical schools. In 2012, as part of a series of statewide changes to higher education, the university was given state designation as a research university and acquired the osteopathic medical school, one of the pieces of the dismantled University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. That year, Rowan also accepted the first students into Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, its medical school affiliated with Cooper University Hospital.

Since then, Rowan has sought to increase its research output, received a $3 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and agreed to occupy part of a new health sciences campus being built in downtown Camden.

In 2014, Rowan's osteopathic medical school and Stockton University agreed to a seven-year dual-degree program. Students in that program receive a bachelor's degree from Stockton in three years and then spend four years at RowanSOM to receive the doctor of osteopathic medicine degree.

Rowan and Stockton said the program would expand access to medical education, address projected physician shortages in the state, and make a medical degree more affordable.

But Rowan has also stumbled in its aggressive attempts to increase its medical, health, and science programs. Last month, trustees were set to vote on a proposal to sell 100 acres of land, near the main campus in Glassboro, to Inspira Health Network for a new hospital.

Rowan said the move could provide undergraduate internships, faculty research, and placement of medical students.

The vote was tabled after several trustees said the university was moving too quickly. Kennedy Health president and CEO Joseph W. Devine warned the board that Kennedy opposed the Inspira proposal.

Kennedy could reevaluate its affiliation with RowanSOM, and, Devine suggested, could stop offering residency spots to SOM students.

One trustee said she felt "a little threatened." The Inspira proposal is to be discussed Tuesday at a special trustees meeting.

Rowan's growth plans also have caught the attention of Stockton University officials. Stockton trustees commissioned an investigation by the Gibbons P.C. law firm into the high-profile collapse of a plan to create an Atlantic City residential campus at the former Showboat casino site.

The report, released in September, said former Stockton president Herman J. Saatkamp had seen Stockton as in direct competition with Rowan to create an Atlantic City campus.

"[N]early every member of the Board attributed the rush to close to Saatkamp, who was concerned. …Stockton might lose the opportunity, and Rowan might subsequently win the race to open a campus in Atlantic City."

After those plans fell apart, Stockton is now pursuing construction of a more modest campus at a different site in Atlantic City.

Stockton's president was unavailable for comment Monday, a spokeswoman said.