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As he works toward relationship with Rutgers med school, RWJBarnabas' Ostrowsky gets inside look at student life

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Barry Ostrowsky talks with Dr. Sherine Gabriel, dean of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Barry Ostrowsky talks with Dr. Sherine Gabriel, dean of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. - (Photo / )


Last Thursday was not an average day for the CEO of the state's largest health system.

Barry Ostrowsky found himself in the unusual position of submitting to an interview, vying for a spot as a Rutgers University medical student.

He passed, of course, and donned his very own white coat to experience a day in the life of an average student.

Ostrowsky said the idea came from discussions with Rutgers to codify a new relationship.

He told NJBIZ that RWJBarnabas Health is currently in talks with Rutgers to make a significant investment in the medical school, which will go toward supporting education and research.

“My clear bias is that, if you want to be a top (health care) delivery system, you have to have a very strong academic connection and orientation, and you have to invest in medical research,” Ostrowsky said. “For all the years I spent in the industry — and before I was in management I was an attorney representing physicians and organizations of physician — It just seemed to me that I had concluded, somewhat accurately, that in order to have a top-notch medical school, you can’t rely on tuition alone. There has to be serious support from other sources. Some may use philanthropy, others may use the state budget — depending on which state you’re in. And of course, in our case, we are going to make a serious investment in supporting the (Robert Wood Johnson) Medical School.”

Without asking for the opportunity, the attorney-turned-CEO was invited by Dean Sherine Gabriel to be a student for a day, making patient rounds at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

“Certainly, in my educational experience, and I must say in my professional experience, this is one of the highlights of anything I’ve ever done,” he told NJBIZ. “They did such a wonderful job putting this day together for me.”

It began with teaching rounds, and learning some basic clinical techniques and bedside manners.

“I learned how to give an injection on a (dummy). Then I went to their Federally Qualified Health Center, the (Eric B.) Chandler Health Center, which of course handles vulnerable communities in New Brunswick. Then I went to the neurology (lab) where they are studying approaches to MS (multiple sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s,” Ostrowsky said.

The day then continued with a psychiatry clerkship study, where the professor used a teaching technique that was well-received by his guest student.

A real passion

Barry Ostrowsky saw firsthand just how much passion is required for anyone entering medical school in today’s world.

While jobs in the health care field were relatively recession-proof, overall, the quality of life associated with such jobs has certainly declined in recent years.

“In previous generations, if you were that smart and inclined to science, you pretty well knew that if you could get in and get through medical school and do residency, you were pretty much assured a luxurious lifestyle because physicians earned an awful lot of money by comparison to the rest of society,” the CEO of RWJBarnabas Health said.

But now, most medical students know that, with the changes in reimbursement and ways of caring for patients, there is very little assurance of such a comfortable lifestyle.

“It must mean that there is something else driving these folks, because they are smart, they clearly have the science orientation. There is clearly this inner passion to learn — I almost feel like it’s to learn this trade, and then use this trade to help people,” he said, adding that many of the students discussed population and global health.

“It’s not only refreshing, but it was motivating for those of us, particularly in my case, who didn’t have that,” Ostrowsky said.

“He was using a particular ‘Seinfeld’ episode. Which is great, because I basically know every ‘Seinfeld’ episode by rote, so I felt a part of the class,” Ostrowsky said.

The day culminated in a team activity, where Ostrowsky joined a group of medical students in conducting an evaluation and coming up with a diagnosis on a fake patient.

“I touched, certainly categorically, about everything that goes on in a medical school,” he said, in summary of the day.

The experience has left an impression.

In a recent strategic meeting for the health system, when a discussion of graduate medical education at teaching hospitals came up, Ostrowsky was able to reach into his own repository of knowledge to apply to the discussion.

If a person spends three days at a teaching hospital, he could easily interact with up to 86 different people — ranging from housekeeping to the doctors.

“So, one of the operational issues is how to balance the need for the training of future clinicians with efficiency of care,” Ostrowsky said.

The health industry continues to transform into an environment of team-based care, and tailoring the patient experience.

“The old joke used to be, at a teaching hospital, you would get asked the same 12 questions by all levels,” Ostrowsky said. “But the asking of those questions is part of the training. So there is an observation to be made and a puzzle to be figured out.”

At the end of the day, Ostrowsky was overwhelmingly impressed by the dedication of each student he met.

 “The takeaway for me, other than medical school must be — if you’re in it full time — an incredibly serious and trying and difficult learning experience,” he said. “But the takeaway is anyone, who has any level of skepticism about the quality of those folks going to medical school, can rest easy. Because I met medical school students who were just intimidating in their intelligence, and their passion.”

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