Paul Katz, who recently helped start a medical school in Scranton, was tapped Wednesday to be founding dean of another medical start-up: the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden.
"There hasn't been a lot of opportunity in the last 50 years to create a new medical school," said Katz, 62, a rheumatologist who will make $500,000 a year in Camden. "What was most attractive was the ability to create a new school."
The six-story building, which is set to open in the fall of 2012, will enter a competitive world. Philadelphia boasts five medical schools, not to mention the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which has an osteopathic campus in Stratford.
But health-care needs are growing. Nationally, nearly two dozen medical schools have opened in recent years or are in planning stages. And many existing schools are expanding - all to meet an expected doctor shortage and a graying of the population.
The new federal health bill is also expected to increase the need for doctors.
"We all just don't want to be the 134th medical school in the country," said Katz at a news conference announcing his appointment. "We want to be a leader."
One challenge facing the new medical school is funding. The school will have 40 to 50 students in its first year, and its new building on Benson Street will cost $100 million.
The National Institutes of Health represents the most prestigious grant-maker.
But "every school out there is competing for these grants," said John Prescott, the chief academic officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington.
In addition, "all new medical schools face a challenge of making sure that there is a clear understanding what the mission is," said Prescott, former dean of the University of West Virginia School of Medicine.
Candice Chen, assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at George Washington University, has been studying how medical schools care for the health needs of their communities.
Since Camden is a medically needy area, "they have the real potential to have doctors to serve the community in a social mission," Chen said.
Katz was circumspect about the school's mission, which he said was still developing.
He said he and other executives would research the community's needs.
Asked if the new school would be a hotbed for primary-care teaching and training, Katz said no.
"It's about educating students with a breadth of experience. One way to do that is to expose them to primary care," Katz said.
Katz was the first vice president of the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, which accepted its first students in 2009.
Rowan president Donald Farish joked that Katz must be a "glutton for punishment" for wanting to start another medical school.
The Camden school is a joint effort between Rowan, which has campuses in Camden and Glassboro, and Cooper University Hospital.
The school's status as a newcomer represents a challenge and an advantage.
"They don't have to fight the existing culture," Chen said. "They can create from the ground up."
"The virtue of what we have is a blank slate," he said. "We have no baggage."