Keep in touch. Yes, Northeast Ohio Medical University President Jay A. Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D., expects to do that after he retires from the University. But that phrase already started to take on another meaning a month ago, when Dr. Gershen and his wife, Carol Cannon, became residents of The Village—the apartment complex on the north side of campus.
The move wasn’t actually part of Dr. Gershen’s plans – announced last year – to step down from the NEOMED presidency next September, after nearly a decade at the helm. Dr. Gershen and his wife had put their home in Hudson up for sale. They figured that it would take a little while to sell, and then they would move to Colorado. Surprise: Their home sold in one day.
So, they decided to give The Village a try.
The results have been even better than Dr. Gershen had hoped. He has always reached out to students, for example, by inviting them to small informal lunches where they are encouraged to ask questions. But living among them has helped to put him in even closer touch with what’s on their minds and in their hearts – and what keeps them up at night.
In an interview at his light-filled residence overlooking a courtyard where students gather when the weather is warm, Dr. Gershen said that after a few initial double-takes, students living at The Village have gotten used to seeing him around. He likes being able to do his workouts with the early birds among them at Sequoia Wellness, the fitness facility available to the University and community alike at the NEOMED Education and Wellness (NEW) Center.
And he treasures the chance conversations that happen when he and students are walking across from The Village to campus, or back home. Gesturing out the large window of his living room, he points to the pathways leading to the campus buildings close by—a five-minute walk if you’re taking it briskly, longer if you’re wrapped up in your conversation. From the conversations he has struck up on those walks, he has some observations: “Our students are very intent on being successful. They’re serious about their studies, and some of them are very worried about their studies. I try to ease their anxieties.”
Sometimes the students share financial or personal concerns. One told Dr. Gershen how much they appreciated a scholarship, since even the cost of medical school applications posed a barrier.
An advocate for students
While at NEOMED, Dr. Gershen has advocated for mental health and wellness programs—comprising anything from education helping faculty, staff and students to increased staffing for student counseling services. [Editor’s note: Counseling at NEOMED’s Center for Student Wellness and Counseling Services is confidential.]
“There’s a high level of anxiety and depression in health professions students around the country, not just here. The main thing is that the students get help…and equally important is that they help each other; that they don’t feel alone,” says Dr. Gershen.
He’s proud of the work NEOMED does as the hub for the Ohio Program for Campus Safety and Mental Health, which advances suicide prevention, mental health awareness and stigma reduction activities, both at NEOMED and across the state.
Community service, multiple paths
Dr. Gershen is endlessly impressed by NEOMED’s students.
“They’re so community-minded. They volunteer like you can’t believe!” he says, noting that opening up NEOMED to the community with campus additions a few years ago – with another major building project to be completed in September 2020—has helped to bring students in touch with the people they serve, such as the patients at the SOAR Student-Run Free Clinic for community members.
Wrapping up the final months of his tenure, NEOMED’s president couldn’t be happier that he’s finishing it among the students who mean so much to him.