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Just What the Doctor Ordered

Just What the Doctor Ordered
Smith Named Founding Dean of Hofstra University School of Medicine

By Miles Doyle

Lawrence, G. Smith, FCRH '71, was recently named the founding dean of Hofstra University School of Medicine. Photo Courtesy of North Shore--LIJ Studio
In June 2006, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a not-for-profit organization representing the country’s 129 accredited medical schools, released an alarming report. Unless the number of physicians increases significantly before the end of the next decade, the AAMC warned, there simply won’t be enough qualified doctors to go around. 

“A shortage of U.S. doctors would have a profound impact on all Americans by affecting access to quality health care, especially for the underserved who already encounter substantial barriers when seeking care,” said Jordan J. Cohen, M.D., the president of the AAMC at the time of the report.

The AAMC called for an increase in the number of allopathic—or M.D.-granting—medical schools to help bring about a 30 percent increase in physicians by 2020.

Within a year, Hofstra University announced its intention to start a new school of medicine in partnership with the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. One of the first decisions university officials made was to name a Fordham graduate, Lawrence G. Smith, M.D., FCRH ’71, the founding dean of the school.

“[Hofstra] University is ready to be a national leader,” said Smith, the chief medical officer of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. “This is a golden opportunity to meet the need [for new physicians]. It’s a true win-win situation for all involved.”

Once established, the Hofstra University School of Medicine will be the first allopathic medical school in Nassau County—and the first on Long Island in more than 35 years. 

Because not all U.S. medical schools are in a position to increase their enrollment numbers, new schools, like Hofstra’s, are expected to pick up the enrollment slack, according to Donna Heald, Ph.D., director of pre-health professions advising and associate dean for science education at Fordham College at Rose Hill.

“Some schools are increasing enrollment,” said Heald, “but it’s just not easy to add more students to the class. Medical schools actually have to provide sound clinical training, so they have to keep the number of students in a clinical rotation to a minimum.”   

The increase in the number of medical schools, which remained stuck at 125 for the better part of two decades, would go a long way in staving off the projected shortage of physicians, Heald said.

As of January 2009, there are 10 medical schools—including Hofstra’s—in various stages of the accreditation process, according to the Liason Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting authority for medical education programs leading to the M.D. degree in U.S. and Canadian medical schools.

As the first dean of Hofstra’s School of Medicine, Smith is responsible for leading the strategic planning of the school’s curriculum, facilities and programs, and is also charged with moving along the accreditation process and recruiting new administrators and faculty.

“We won’t build a medical school that looks like old ones,” said Smith, who was the founding director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Institute for Medical Education from 2002 to 2005. “But we can identify what does work and then create a unique medical school on Long Island—one of the most ethnically diverse, immigrant-rich communities in the world—and set a precedent for the future in medical training.

“I want to link things so if we’re learning anatomy and physiology of the heart, we let students get into the operating room and look at open heart surgery to see not the perfect world of the textbook but the real world.”

Smith, who earned an M.D. from New York University School of Medicine after earning his M.S. in biophysics at Michigan State University and B.S. in physics at Fordham, will work closely with administrators and professors at Hofstra University.

He also will continue in his role as chief medical officer at the NS-LIJ Health System, where he is responsible for all clinical, educational, research and operational issues related to the 15-hospital health system’s medical and clinical affairs.
Starting a medical school from scratch is a formidable challenge, Smith admits, but it is one he is ready to embrace. He sees great things for Hofstra’s new medical school, as well as those established in answer to the projected physician shortage.

“My bet is that the accumulative impact of all these [new medical schools] will have a national impact on medical education as a laboratory for new teaching methods,” he said. “And, in the process, we can help meet the vital need for physicians in our area.”

Miles Doyle, FCRH '01, is the associate editor of FORDHAM magazine

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