As Anderson takes reins of RWJ-Rutgers medical group, he aims to train top pros … and keep them in N.J.

By Brett Johnson
New Jersey | Aug 30, 2018 at 4:49 pm
From our print edition

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Dr. Andy Anderson said, sounding extraordinarily calm describing his new job.

He was asked to be CEO of the combined medical group at the recently partnered RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University academic health system. The group was formed from the practitioners of RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Health Group, a faculty practice of Rutgers-employed doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

In other words: no pressure.

Thankfully for him, he has a wealth of experience at the intersection of education and health care. Most recently, he was chief medical officer for Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin. But before that, he held top positions at medical school settings such as NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

He was named the CEO of the new RWJBarnabas-Rutgers group shortly after the overall partnership’s formal announcement in late July. A few weeks later, the organization is just getting started integrating its academic and clinical environments.  

Anderson spoke to ROI-NJ about that work and what else lies ahead.

ROI-NJ: What advantages does this partnership offer for training future generations of medical staff?

Andy Anderson: The future of this industry is really in the hands of our trainees, so we want to make sure we’re training them in the best possible way. This partnership allows us the opportunity to pair up an academic institution with a premier health system to bring the best of both to the table when we’re training doctors who are students and residents — as well as nurses, dentists and others — to meet the needs of the populations we’re serving. Health care in the future will be more value-based, with an emphasis on the best possible outcomes for New Jersey. Some of that will be bread and butter: good bedside manner and great communications skills. But some of it will also involve the latest technology and digital health. We’re trying to equip people with the right skills. So, to have students in this better environment to deliver that in the future is extraordinary.

ROI: There are many facets of this partnership, but one that sticks out is the earmarking of $10 million for the financial support of medical students. Could you talk about the importance of that?

AA: Students incur a great deal of debt between college and professional training such as medical school. We’re prepared to help relieve some of that debt with commitments for the students to stay within New Jersey and within our practice settings. Specifically, we’re targeting primary care. We expect there to be a real need for more primary care positions in the future and we want to incentivize students to stay within primary care. Ideally, we’ll make them so excited about primary care that they really want to go into it. But we’re also willing to provide the financial resources that alleviate some student debt in exchange for their commitment to primary care here in New Jersey. It’s important we do this because when it comes to a lot of students and residents, we train them in New Jersey and then they end up going to other states.

ROI: Has this been a problem in New Jersey? Why are they leaving?

AA: They’re leaving for the typical reasons: People are taking offers from other states and maybe not knowing enough about opportunities here. I think a lot of it going to be good awareness of what’s available and getting students excited about the future and what’s already here in New Jersey. We really want to keep them in the state as much as possible, partly because we’ve trained them here in a way we feel is the best way — and we want that in our workforce. But the other thing is that we just need doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists and others to stay in the state to take care of our population instead of leaving. I’m hearing in my first month or two in New Jersey that this is already leading to some professional shortages that need to be addressed.

ROI: When it comes to how you approach the education of medical professionals, does this new partnership open up the potential for different strategies and curriculum — perhaps in a way that overlaps with health care industry trends? 

AA: A big focus right now is team-based care for patients, with nurses, medical assistants and pharmacists working side-by-side in a more collaborative environment. At a primary care setting, there’s a need to have licensed professionals doing the work they were trained to do, but also collaborating in the best possible way. Rutgers offers great training programs that develops many professionals in various fields, and this new opportunity can allow us to put them together to provide the best possible environment for health care. I’m excited about that. Some of this is having trainees work side-by-side or having purposeful interactions with other professionals as they go through their training programs. Some of it will be reorganizing clinic settings in a way that further promotes that team-based care. So, this is a new opportunity to demonstrate the future health care model we need.

ROI: What about the health care system side? What are going to be some of the first priorities you’re embracing when it comes to that part of the combined entity you’re leading?

AA: People need better access to primary care. When they’re sick acutely, with ear infections or a bad cold, they need to be able to access health care easily; and you definitely need that same easy access for chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure. So, I want to build a strong primary care bench for the health system by expanding on what we have. That’ll be critically important to serving the population well. I also want to develop leaders, moving nurses and others along their career path. Anyone who has demonstrated the potential to be a leader, whether it’s leading the care of the patient in front of you or leading the care your practice setting is delivering, I think developing those potential leaders of the future now is something I’m going to be focused on.

ROI: What should Jerseyans expect from this organization several years down the line?

AA: We aspire to be the region’s preferred health system, and we believe we’re well on our way to that. If we can truly provide the best access, the best quality, the best service, we’re going to continue to provide great outcomes. And it all fits into the focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. We’re looking at new models of care. We want to be cutting-edge, and blaze a new path. We want to make a difference in the state and, ultimately, the whole country. And if we can continue to advance in the way we have been, we’re going to become a role model, not only here, but nationwide.

Conversation Starter

To learn more about Rutgers University academic health system, go to: rutgers.edu/health or call 732-445-4636.