• Initiatives: Reimagining health care


Reimagining health care: A new academic health partnership is transforming education, patient care and research

In January 2022, Rowan University President Ali Houshmand and Virtua Health President and CEO Dennis Pullin announced the creation of an academic health partnership like no other, one that’s already moving forward to meet the health and educational needs of those they serve.

Their vision established Virtua Health College of Medicine & Life Sciences of Rowan University, an institution aimed at empowering students, health care providers and researchers to improve health and wellness for all.

With two dreamers at their helms, Rowan and Virtua have quickly overtaken several five-year goals set during the early stages of planning, transforming the way they educate and train the next generation of physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.

Early achievers

This fall, Virtua Health College introduced new academic programs in respiratory therapy and clinical lab science and more are in the works, including multiple graduate programs in translational research to develop and test new therapies, treatments and models of care.

In the near future, the college will begin recruiting students for a new four-year integrated cooperative education program in nursing, in addition to an already robust 3+1 Bachelor of Science in Nursing program operated in cooperation with nearby community colleges.

Meanwhile, Virtua itself took over six residency programs, while adding two more in general surgery and internal medicine, growing its graduate medical education program from 68 doctors to nearly 200—a monumental feat that’s already attracting top national talent to the academic health system.

And this year, more than two dozen Rowan Medicine clinical practices became affiliated with Virtua Medical Group, another milestone reached ahead of schedule.

Accessible and affordable

As longtime registered nurses for Virtua, Melanie Hones and Teresa Lord quickly gained an intimate perspective on the partnership.

Last spring, the community resource coordinators began pursuing their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees after Virtua offered a new benefit for its nurses: free tuition. The program, a tangible reflection of the many benefits which can come from this partnership, gives working professionals an opportunity to continue their education through online courses in the Rita & Larry Salva School of Nursing & Health Professions.

“I jumped on the opportunity when it came up,” said Hones, a busy parent and 17-year registered nurse who plans to continue her schooling after graduation.

“I think it’s innovative,” said Lord, a 33-year registered nurse who monitors patients enrolled in Virtua’s remote patient monitoring program. “It’s very smart on the part of Virtua and Rowan to build such a partnership. It’s going to be interesting to see if this happens elsewhere.”

A strategic alliance

In her busy emergency department at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Monika Smith is already seeing the fruits of a partnership between her employer and her alma mater.

In July 2022, students at Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford began regular rotations through Smith’s department, gaining firsthand exposure to every manner of medical emergency.

For Smith and her colleagues, it’s an opportunity to share the knowledge they have developed over the years, while sharpening their own skills.

“It’s an honor, first and foremost, to be able to train and develop future physicians and have such a tremendous impact on the future of health care,” said Smith, who graduated from the Stratford school in 2003. One third of her graduating class now work at Virtua, creating a collegial and collaborative atmosphere that she views as beneficial for her patients.

Virtua cardiologist Dr. Troy Randle, who graduated with Smith, believes the strategic alliance with Rowan enhances patient care. He knows from experience how medical students and residents take more time with patients and how closely they pay attention.

“I love the teaching aspect,” Randle said. “That’s part of the drive that keeps me going. I know that I can’t practice clinical medicine forever, but knowing I’m part of training our future providers is huge.”

Innovation, close to home

A key aspect of the partnership is the development of a translational biomedical engineering and sciences school, one that brings together the best and brightest researchers and clinicians to pull together toward innovative treatments and techniques to improve patient care.

With access to Rowan’s research capacity, both doctors see a bright future for their students and the South Jersey community as a whole.

After acquiring Our Lady of Lourdes in 2019, Virtua broadened the hospital’s capabilities and patients’ access to minimally invasive robotic surgery, new technology and other services once available only across the Delaware River, Smith noted.

“The two institutions together have so much growth potential and innovation potential,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to that.”