Virtua-Rowan college of medicine is about health of South Jersey economy, too

In addition to enormous number of employees in new college (potentially 20,000), Pullin and Houshmand feel creating communities of wellness will make area more inviting for residents, businesses

When the Virtua Health College of Medicine & Life Sciences of Rowan University was announced in 2022, it was about more than just creating a new academic health system to improve care and wellness for the communities of South Jersey — it was about improving the health of the region’s economy, too.

“I believe that we are the engine that is going to revitalize the southern New Jersey economy,” Rowan University President Ali Houshmand said. “That’s what excites me about the whole thing.

“We have the ability to completely revitalize counties like Salem, Cumberland and Cape May that desperately need that additional influx of people who are well paid and can buy properties. We can revitalize counties.”

Virtua Health CEO Dennis Pullin couldn’t agree more. He said the two entities not only are in a unique position to help the region — they have a moral imperative to do so.

“As the president of a health system and the president of a university, we have a responsibility to create what I like to call, ‘communities of wellness,’” he said. “It’s creating communities that are absent of illness. It’s creating communities with an educated workforce.

“If we can create these communities of wellness, then, suddenly, we have this vibrant, dynamic community that attracts people not only to come here, but to stay here as well.”

The idea of “staying here” starts with access to quality health care. Simply put, eliminating the need to go to Philadelphia (or North Jersey or New York City) for certain treatment options.

“One of the goals that we have always had is to create this hub in South Jersey where people feel as if they don’t absolutely have to cross the river for higher level of care,” Pullin said. “There is absolutely no reason at all that a resident of South Jersey can’t get the quality of care that they need without traveling elsewhere. We’re bringing care closer to where people live and work.”

The Virtua Health College of Medicine & Life Sciences of Rowan University already is playing a role in that, as the ability to work at an academic health care system is bringing some of the best and the brightest to the region, Pullin said.

“We’re not having to go out and recruit,” he said. “We’re having people come to us. It’s great and it’s all based on our commitment, being very purposeful, and creating a model that people can understand.”

Pullin compares it to the recruitment of athletes.

“ ‘A’ players attract other ‘A’ players,” he said. “For us to have two ‘A’ organizations together, we’re now able to attract some of the most stellar clinicians, researchers, allied health professionals than we ever imagined.

“I don’t think we could have done as good a job individually as we’re doing together.”

More doctors and researchers are good for health care — and the economic health of the region, Houshmand stressed.

“I see the potential for this,” he said. “Rowan could have a $2 billion operating budget. Virtua could have a $5 billion operating budget. The number of employees that could benefit — 20,000 combined — is incredible.”