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 in November.

The Spencer Foreman award, presented annually to one AAMC-member medical school or teaching hospital, recognizes exceptional programs that go 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.

“I’m so proud of our school and community for earning this incredible distinction,” said Annette C. Reboli, MD, dean of CMSRU.  “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.”

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AAMC stated “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.

Starting with the first class, CMSRU students are required to participate in 30 to 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

“These experiences allow our students to develop meaningful relationships with our community, and a deeper understanding of the social factors affecting health," said Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD, PhD, associate dean for diversity and community affairs at CMSRU.

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:

  • Sidekicks, in which medical students become trusted supports for young patients with serious illnesses and their families.
  • Cathedral Kitchen, in which students and staff serve meals to Camden residents coping with food insecurity.
  • Educational programs that help the city’s youth excel, including after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, and a science program for English-language learners.
  • “Pipeline programs” that teach Camden elementary- to college-age students about health topics and medical professions. (44% of graduates of the college-age program have enrolled in medical schools, including CMSRU!)

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, 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.”

The annual meeting took place Nov. 8-12 in Phoenix, Arizona.