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A Mission for Health

Northeast Ohio Medical University and Cleveland State University have partnered to train more future primary care physicians who will be dedicated to underserved areas. 

For more than 40 years, NEOMED has delivered on its promise to inspire, educate and train physicians and other health professionals to serve the community and improve access to health care.

As the only regional, four-year public medical institution in the state, NEOMED seeks to provide an innovative health care workforce for the region, says its president, Jay Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D.

“We also have a mission to move science forward and find solutions using medical research to improve the quality of life and health of Ohioans,” Dr. Gershen says. “Another mission is to engage with all aspects of the community in a positive way – that includes the business community, the health community, the civic community in Northeast Ohio – to bring all programs and expertise to the region for the betterment of health care and to promote economic development.”

While academic health centers throughout the country have attracted primary care physicians to practice in middle-class neighborhoods and in higher socio-economic locations, they’ve been unsuccessful at incentivizing medical graduates to work in underserved urban and rural communities.

What makes that imbalance even more troubling are national projections that predict a shortage of about 40,000 primary care physicians across the next couple of decades, and a total shortage of about 100,000 physicians in all disciplines.

Factor in the lack of diversity and underrepresented minorities in medical school, and it’s a perfect storm of alarming realities that led NEOMED and Cleveland State University to create a strategic collaboration: the NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health. The partnership, first developed in 2010, recruits and trains medical students who come from or mirror the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of these communities. These aspiring primary care physicians are dedicated to eliminating health disparities and improving the health of the urban neighborhoods.

“There is a critical shortage of primary care physicians in the United States and, while many universities are trying to recalibrate to train more primary care physicians, this medical school is focused on training primary care physicians,” says CSU President Ronald M. Berkman, Ph.D. “To have individuals who are well-trained, who have developed and worked clinically in an urban environment, have sensitivity toward the issue of health disparities and look like the patients they’re treating, we’re going to provide to Cleveland an exceptionally different, new generation of physicians and health care providers.”

The multi-faceted partnership leverages scholarship and education for service dollars to create a pipeline of students coming directly from underserved areas of Greater Cleveland. In some cases, they are identified by key community members helping to encourage talented youngsters to consider medicine as a career.

“For example, we have more than 70 black pastors who are helping at the church level in local churches to try to identify students who might be interested in medical school,” Gershen says.

An accomplished, 14-member Community Advisory Board – co-chaired by Dr. Edgar B. Jackson Jr., executive in residence at CSU and the Honorable Louis Stokes, J.D. (recently deceased) – has helped inform best practices and build the curriculum for the Urban Health Track program.

Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the chairman and chief executive officer of the Sullivan Alliance to Transform the Health Professions, says he’s extremely impressed and encouraged by the partnership. He calls it “a very creative merger between two institutions to address a very significant societal issue” of having adequate health professionals to serve all people, including those in urban and rural areas.

“A program like this in Cleveland will serve a number of purposes. First of all, getting more health professionals where they’re needed. But secondly, a different kind of health professional who really has greater credibility, greater communication skills with the community – greater understanding of the community,” he says. “If if does have the success we anticipate, I’m sure it will be adopted in other urban areas around the country (that) are in dire need of (better) access to health and improved health behavior.”

By Chrissy Kadleck