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Jay Gershen Looks Back on a Decade of Change at NEOMED

Jay Gershen
Dr. Jay Gershen is retiring after a decade at the helm of NEOMED. He's overseen a massive expansion of the medical school's campus and efforts to open it up to the community.

September 30th is Dr. Jay Gershen’s last day as president of the Northeast Ohio Medical University.

During his decade at the helm of NEOMED, Gershen has emphasized the school’s mission to produce doctors to serve Northeast Ohio’s diverse communities.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair talked with Gershen about his legacy and the secret to the NEOMED model of medical education.

Dr. Jay Gershen sold his house not long after he announced his decision to retire, and he and his wife, Carol Cannon, decided to live in a student apartment during the final months of his term at NEOMED.

Gershen says he started his career with students and teaching at UCLA 44 years ago, "and wouldn't it be great to spend six months with the students!"

Jay Gershen
Dr. Jay Gershen stands outside his apartment at the Village at NEOMED.

He says the students were surprised to see the university president living down the hall, but soon accepted him as their neighbor.

I sat down with the 73 year-old Gershen at his campus apartment to talk about his ten year tenure in Ohio.

The apartment we're sitting in is new. There are construction cranes right outside the window where they're building a new high school. You've transformed this campus in your time here, doubling the square footage.

"Some of the campus expansion has been to our faculties in terms of research. Some of it has been, as you say, for the village of students, and we've converted from a commuter school to a residential campus.

And, much of it has been for the community. We have a health and wellness center, we have Bio-Med Science Academy, a stem high school; we have conference facilities where we do all kinds of meetings and events, professional as well as social. We even do weddings here too!

So, as a citizen, this is really my university. We are part of the community, and I think that's really the transformation that's occurred here, and I'm so proud of that, and it's really been a team effort to make it happen."

NEOMED is unique in that it's a consortium of four universities, it's in a rural county, and it doesn't have a teaching hosptial. What challenges have these differences presented? And how have those differences benefited NEOMED?

"Most academic health centers have clinical enterprises on the campus that cross subsidize the university. We don't have that cross subsidization, instead we have 29 hospital partners that are affiliates, and the hospitals actually pay the faculty, for the most part.

So when you look at NEOMED, you say, 'well, gee, how does that work?'

Construction continues at NEOMED's Bio-Med Science Academy, a stem high school.

So if you look at the budget of Ohio State's medical school, or Case Western Reserve University's medical school, or the University of Michigan, these are great places, but they have multi-billion dollar budgets. Our operational budget is around $60 million. We can do it because we have these partnerships with the hospitals, and we can do it because of the culture of this community, and that's what really makes it work. We have hundreds of faculty that volunteer their time and teach our students without pay. 

I go around the country and people ask me, 'how do we do the NEOMED model?' And I say to them, 'I can tell you how we do it, but I'm not sure you can do it.' And they say, 'What do you mean? Of course, we can do it!'  'No, you can't do it in Nashville, or Atlanta, or Los Angeles, or Chicago. And the reason is, I don't think you're going to find hundreds of volunteers in the medical profession to volunteer their time.' 

So we're really benefitting from the enormous love of community, and identification with community, and philanthropic mood of the people who live here. That's what makes us unique. That's what makes us tick."

You started off studying psychology, then became a dentist and practiced in underserved communities.  You went on to earn Ph.Ds in education and child psychology... I'm trying to understand Jay Gershen, because any one of those careers could have sustained you, but you decided to wrap-up your career here at NEOMED.

"If I really want to get philosophical about it, I really believe that healthcare is a right not a privilege, and that everybody should have the right to health care whether they have means or not.

My experiences with Latinos in California, and Native Americans in Colorado, and African Americans here locally, has really allowed me to get involved in this philosophical mission that I have for myself. And so I feel very good about that. I had lunch with all of the minority students 10 years ago when I first came here to NEOMED, and I had lunch with less than a handful of students. I had lunch just recently with just the first year students and had lunch with several dozen minority students, and we have around 75 or 80 minority students here. Many of those individuals are interested in going back to underserved communities. So we really have been able to bring that workforce forward."

Dr. Jay Gershen is retiring next week after ten years as president of NEOMED.

Dr. John Langell will take over the leadership role October 1st.

Jeff is your average chemist turned radio host and reporter. He currently hosts middays on WKSU and has reported extensively on science, politics, business, and the environment.