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Cooper Medical School of Rowan University receives national honor for community engagement

CAMDEN, NJ -- Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) received the 2019 Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Engagement at the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) annual meeting, held in November in Phoenix, Ariz. 

AAMC Chair Lily Marks presented the award to CMSRU at a black-tie gala attended by more than 500 academic medicine leaders from across the United States. Annette C. Reboli, MD, dean of CMSRU, and Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD, PhD, associate dean for diversity and community affairs, accepted the award on behalf of CMSRU, along with James Newell, PhD, Rowan University’s senior vice president for medical initiatives and affiliated campuses, and Anthony J. Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE, co-president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care.

“I’m so proud of our school and community for earning this incredible distinction,” said Reboli, who noted that the Spencer Foreman Award is considered the highest honor a medical school can receive from the AAMC. “It singles out CMSRU as an exemplar of social responsiveness in the academic medical world. It’s validation of our students’ hard work and dedication, and that of everyone associated with CMSRU.”

The Spencer Foreman award, presented annually to one AAMC-member medical school or teaching hospital, recognizes exceptional programs that go well beyond the traditional role of academic medicine and reach communities whose needs are not being met through the traditional health delivery system. CMSRU was honored for the many ways it partners with the Camden community, to both improve residents’ well-being and educate future physicians.

“CMSRU was located in Camden, one of the nation’s poorest communities, for a reason: to help with the city’s transformation and improve the health and well-being of the citizens who live here,” added Reboli.  “Serving the community is at the heart of the CMSRU mission.”

Partnering with local residents

AAMC stated that “CMSRU has integrated the community into the fabric of the school, exemplifying its motto, ‘Camden is our classroom; Camden is our home.’”

“There are no barriers between the school and the community,” agreed Dan Lombardo, CEO of Volunteers of America, Delaware Valley. Lombardo served for the past several years as one of two Camden community representatives who serve as full members on CMSRU’s admissions committee – a partnership that ensures incoming students embody the school’s mission of service.

Indeed, starting with the first class, CMSRU students are required to participate in 30 - 40 hours of community service (also known as service learning) each academic year. And many go beyond this level.

These activities are designed in collaboration with community groups and residents to address their needs and priorities – from access to primary care and nutritious food, to educational and fitness opportunities.

“I’ve been humbled by the extensive interaction with our community partners, and thank them for welcoming CMSRU as their neighbors,” said Mitchell-Williams. “We listened and learned how a medical school could be helpful to them, not the other way around.

“These experiences allow our students to develop meaningful relationships with our community, and a deeper understanding of the social factors affecting health.”

This commitment has added up: In the most recent academic year, CMSRU students spent 17,650 hours on service learning – and more than 67,000 hours since the school’s inception. 

Variety of options

In addition to their required hours spent in the Cooper Rowan Clinic -- a free, student-run medical clinic for people who are uninsured or underinsured -- CMSRU’s aspiring doctors have more than 20 service-learning programs to choose from, such as:

According to AAMC, each of these programs exemplify the “trust and mutual respect between CMSRU and numerous organizations, industries, and neighbors with the shared goal of making all nine square miles of Camden a great place to live.”

Plus, students find value in these opportunities, Dean Reboli noted.

“They can do impactful things like work in a community garden, coach soccer, help with arts programs, or assist with children’s exercise classes,” she said. “They make personal connections and really make a difference. It’s a win for everyone.” 

To learn more about CMSRU, visit cmsru.rowan.edu.