Cooper Medical School, the first new medical school in New Jersey in more than 30 years, received its preliminary accreditation Thursday, paving the way for it to open in downtown Camden in summer 2012.

The school, a partnership between Cooper University Hospital and Rowan University, will start recruiting its first class immediately, said Paul Katz, the school's dean.

"The word is out there already. There's a whole network that follows these things," he said. "We won't have any challenges with people knowing about us."

Meanwhile, the region's medical schools continue to expand. Temple University and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine have established branch campuses, and a new medical school has opened in Scranton.

New Jersey has three medical schools under the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey banner, with campuses in Newark, New Brunswick, and Stratford. Although medical school slots have been increasing nationally, New Jersey's enrollment has stayed flat in recent years, said Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.

Whether a new medical school will address South Jersey's long-standing doctor shortage is hard to say, he said.

"There's a severe maldistribution problem, both geographically and with not enough doctors in primary practice," Cantor said. "Those are long-standing problems that are very hard to fix. A lot of it is economics."

Cooper officials hope to offer incentives for graduates to practice locally. Hospital officials also hope the school will help keep more patients from going to Philadelphia for treatment.

"This will benefit the South Jersey economy by keeping more of the nearly $2 billion of health-care spending on this side of the Ben Franklin Bridge," Cooper Health System president and chief executive John Sheridan Jr. said in a statement.

The accreditation is one of the final steps in a 30-year struggle to get another medical school in South Jersey, Cooper chairman George E. Norcross III said.

"Ironically, it was my dad who got the first designation for the medical school," said Norcross, a Democratic political leader. "But because of a lot of governmental and political issues, it never materialized."

Construction of the medical school is ahead of schedule and should be completed by next June, Katz said. The first class of 50 students is expected to begin studies that August, with classes increasing by 10 until each reaches 100 students.

The medical school would not receive its final accreditation until 2016. It will undergo further evaluations when its first class of students begins its second year in 2013, and a final one will be conducted when the first class graduates.

The accreditation comes from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, an accrediting authority for U.S. and Canadian medical schools.