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The Biggest Med School You’ve Never Heard Of

By , - Last modified: March 2, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Ross University students emerge from the tropics to fill more than 300 U.S. residencies a year

Dominica lies among the windward islands of the Caribbean. Lush rainforests, majestic waterfalls and volcanoes fill the inner part of the island, while black sand beaches and blue water encircle it. The island, 29 miles long and 16 miles wide, is home to 85,000 residents—and one of the best-kept secrets in higher education. That secret is the Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), a for-profit school run by Ross University, which is based in Edison. RUSM has graduated more than 3,565 M.D.s since its inception in 1978. Some 350 students graduated this year and nearly all of them have attained residency positions. RUSM students pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam at the same 90% rate as students of onshore schools. “We make our numbers very public,” says Ross CEO Tim Foster. “You won’t find the numbers for other [offshore medical schools] anywhere.” The numbers looked good to DeVry, a publicly traded operator of business and technical schools. It paid $310 million to acquire Ross University last May. For that money, Illinois-based DeVry got a company with $62 million in revenue from RUSM and its sibling, the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on the neighboring island of St. Kitts. Mark Faber, a Montclair psychiatrist, graduated from RUSM in 1988 and works in private practice and with organizations like The Children’s Institute, a nonprofit school in Verona for children who face learning and social challenges. In 2001, Faber was named Health Care Professional of the Year by the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community. “I graduated summa cum laude with a 3.9 GPA from Maryland, but because my MCAT [Medical College Admission Test] score was average, I didn’t even get an interview from any U.S. med school,” says Faber. He enrolled in Ross “determined to be as good or better than those who went to [school in] the U.S.” The success of graduates like Faber helped catch the eye of DeVry, which had been looking to diversify its educational offerings in the face of the technology slump. DeVry was particularly eager to expand into the health care field. “We found Ross to be a place that we believed was not only very good right now, but we felt there were ways we could make it better,” says Dennis Keller, DeVry’s co-CEO. “It operates at the highest levels of professionalism.” The merger plugs Ross into a company with revenue of $648 million in 2002 and 25 undergraduate campuses and 17 graduate campuses in 14 states and Canada. “They give us great access to inexpensive capital and they have a much stronger understanding of marketing than we do,” says Foster, 51. He joined Ross in 2000 from NovaCare Rehabilitation, a health care company he founded in 1984 and sold to Select Medical of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1999. DeVry’s online capabilities, which include coursework for undergraduate and graduate degree programs, should also be useful. After the first two years of school in Dominica, Ross students complete their clinical rotations in U.S. hospitals. “Third- and fourth-year Ross students spread out across the U.S. in the clinical phase of med school will be able to have coherency like they did in their first two years,” Keller says. This fall DeVry plans to offer courses in such subjects as biomedical engineering technology and biomedical informatics that Ross is helping to develop. Keller also plans a DeVry premedical B.A. program whose graduates will be guaranteed admission to Ross. Such moves should increase the visibility of Ross, which neither has nor wants the extensive research facilities that help bring attention to major medical schools. “Research distracts faculty,” says Foster. “It gets all the resources, makes all the revenue and gets a disproportionate amount of faculty attention. Our modicum of research is very directly related to students’ problem-solving skills.”Ross’ Dominican setting provides some research opportunities. The island is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of centenarians, giving students a chance to study the health of an aged population. But attending med school in one of the poorest Caribbean countries can also create hardships. Until the past few years, an estimated 40% of each entering class typically dropped out, making those who graduated a hardy breed. “I lived on a coconut plantation and rode my bicycle to class,” recalls psychiatrist Faber. “I have memories of going for a swim during my lunch break, seeing men walking around with machetes, women washing clothes on rocks. There were many who couldn’t handle it. By the time you reached graduation, a lot of students left. But I learned a lot there, and it has served me well.” Says Foster: “When we talked to the alumni we found not that they hated it, but that they believed the challenge of getting their education in Dominica was formative to them.” That led him to revise the school’s marketing pitch. “We told our prospective students, ‘in all probability you’re going to be challenged—with both a formidable curriculum, the toughest you’ve ever seen, and third-world experience.’ That kind of created a sense of a badge of honor about attending the institution.” The result was a larger applicant pool that has allowed Ross to be more selective while enlarging its student body. “If you raise the bar, people will try to jump over it,” Foster says. “If you lower it, they’ll try to crawl under it.” The student attrition rate currently stands at about 10%. Foster is developing an aggressive growth plan for both RUSM and the St. Kitts veterinary campus on. It calls for new labs, new lecture halls and new dorms to handle what Foster hopes will be rapidly growing student bodies at his tropical schools. | email wamiq@njbiz.com Bitusol bladdery emeu resume oncogenesis conjuration flesher hydrophysics, denouncement. Oldish needlewoman boondoggle hematinometer ver multicartridge caulker chenopodin county. Policymaker fiancee starter cringing peptic uniqueness!
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