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Summit Medical Group's foundation aiming to spark interest in medicine with high schoolers

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Dr. Jeffrey LeBenger is the CEO of Summit Medical Group and chairman of the Summit Medical Group
Foundation.
Dr. Jeffrey LeBenger is the CEO of Summit Medical Group and chairman of the Summit Medical Group Foundation. - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Dr. Jeff LeBenger didn't know he wanted to become a doctor as a college freshman — until he enrolled in a hospital program that introduced him to medicine.

"I saw my first operation," he said. "I went on rounds with the doctors."

And he realized there was nothing else he wanted to do.

Today, LeBenger is chief executive of Berkeley Heights-based Summit Medical Group, which has created a new philanthropic foundation whose first initiative is to light the medical career spark in a new generation of young people.

The Summit Medical Group Foundation's "Careers in Medicine for Young Adults" program kicks off March 28, when about 75 students from Gov. Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights will arrive at the SMG campus for an all-day, hands-on introduction to medicine.

They will put on scrubs, gloves and caps and learn how to suture (using a banana) and how to give an injection (using an orange). And they will see and hear what it's like to practice medicine from more than a dozen SMG clinicians, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, radiologists, lab technicians and researchers.

Students from Ridge High School in Basking Ridge will visit SMG in April, and more high schools will come on board in the months ahead. Teenagers who want a deeper dive into the medical vocation will have the opportunity to shadow SMG clinicians this summer. And the foundation is raising money to provide up to 10 scholarships a year of $5,000 each for help students pursue a medical education.

SMG is the state's largest multi-specialty medical practice. Its more than 300 physicians want to give back to the community — and education is a natural vehicle, said Le Benger, who chairs the foundation.

"One thing that doctors have always felt akin to is the collegiality of medicine," he said. "As you move from intern, to resident, to chief resident to fellow, you are always being taught by somebody, and you are always teaching somebody."

And so the foundation decided "to reach out to the high school community to pique their interest in medical care, because we know there is going to be a huge shortage of physicians," Le Benger said. "This is one way we hope to make a difference."

Steven Kaye, president of the SMG Foundation, said advancing the vocation of medicine among the young is one of several pillars of the foundation's mission.

Another key goal is helping to improve the health of the many communities where SMG patients live. To that end, the foundation will launch Eat Well, a farmers market that will be held every Sunday from mid-June through September on the SMG campus.

"It won't be limited to food but will include vendors involved in all aspects of healthy living," Kaye said. And the foundation will look at ways to help support cutting edge developments in medical technology.

Lisa Hackett, executive director of SMG Foundation, said two fundraisers are coming up: a golf outing on Sept. 29 and a gala on May 30, which will commemorate the 85th anniversary of the SMG.

She said the foundation has been meeting with individual donors and companies. She said the goal is to raise about $300,000 in 2014, the foundation's inaugural year.

Le Benger said students who spend a day at SMG "will learn how their studies in biology, chemistry math and physics apply to real world medicine."

SMG is the state’s largest multi-specialty medical practice. Its more than 300 physicians want to give back to the community — and education is a natural vehicle, said Le Benger, who chairs the foundation.

“One thing that doctors have always felt akin to is the collegiality of medicine,” he said. “As you move from intern, to resident, to chief resident to fellow, you are always being taught by somebody, and you are always teaching somebody.”

And so the foundation decided “to reach out to the high school community to pique their interest in medical care, because we know there is going to be a huge shortage of physicians,” Le Benger said. “This is one way we hope to make a difference.”

Steven Kaye, president of the SMG Foundation, said advancing the vocation of medicine among the young is one of several pillars of the foundation’s mission.

Another key goal is helping to improve the health of the many communities where SMG patients live. To that end, the foundation will launch Eat Well, a farmers market that will be held every Sunday from mid-June through September on the SMG campus.

“It won’t be limited to food but will include vendors involved in all aspects of healthy living,” Kaye said. And the foundation will look at ways to help support cutting edge developments in medical technology.

Lisa Hackett, executive director of SMG Foundation, said two fundraisers are coming up: a golf outing on Sept. 29 and a gala on May 30, which will commemorate the 85th anniversary of the SMG.

She said the foundation has been meeting with individual donors and companies. She said the goal is to raise about $300,000 in 2014, the foundation’s inaugural year. 

Le Benger said students who spend a day at SMG “will learn how their studies in biology, chemistry math and physics apply to real world medicine.”

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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