St. Christopher's diplomas said to be meaningless in New Jersey

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SPC partnership with med school hastily called off

St. Christopher's diplomas said to be meaningless in N.J.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

By Ken Thorbourne
Journal staff writer

A partnership between St. Peter's College in Jersey City and an overseas medical school was killed last night, two weeks after it was announced, amid mounting concerns that its graduates would not be recognized as medical doctors by the state of New Jersey.

Touting the benefit of adding international flair to one's education, St. Peter's College officials had announced in mid-March an agreement with St. Christopher's School of Medicine in Luton, England, to train medical students in seven years.

Students would spend the first three years obtaining an undergraduate degree in biology at St. Peter's College, and the next four at the medical school to complete their doctorates in medicine, according to the agreement.

But an investigation by The Jersey Journal raised serious questions about the 4-year-old medical school's ability to keep its end of the bargain.

Asked about the medical school yesterday, an official with a national organization of college registrars and enrollment officers said he was very familiar with St. Christopher's.

"I know what it purports to be," said Dale Gough, director of international education services for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

"They aren't really a medical school that is recognized anywhere. The embassy in Senegal said the school is in the back of a doctor's office. The U.K., I believe, has asked them to stop listing offices in England," Gough said.

And an official with the state's Board of Examiners said the medical school's graduates would likely not be accepted at any three-year medical residency program at a New Jersey hospital, a prerequisite to becoming a full-fledged doctor in this state.

"It raises questions when a school is training students at a place other than where it is licensed to be a school," said Ian Orr, executive director of the state's Board of Examiners, the licensing body for physicians in the state.

The school is chartered in Senegal, Africa, even though it lists its main teaching location as Luton, England, located 20 minutes outside of London by train, Orr said.

New Jersey law requires the state's future doctors to spend their first two years of medical school studying in the location where the school is chartered, Orr said.

Orr said other states also have denied hospital residency programs or medical licenses to graduates of the school.

Apparently concerned about the media attention, Paul Leone, the president of St. Christopher's, said yesterday that he had called St. Peter's and offered to withdraw from the agreement.

"I don't want them to have to spend a third of the day answering questions on our behalf," Leone said. "We are going to back out of the articulation agreement for a specified period of time, not because we have anything to hide. It is because we don't want to put St. Peter's in a negative light."

Eugene Cornacchia, provost of St. Peter's College, confirmed last night that the agreement, which had been in the works for several months, was dead.

"We are disappointed this happened, but we will continue to make certain that our students have every opportunity to succeed in their chosen medical field," Cornacchia said.

Acknowledging unresolved issues with New Jersey's Board of Examiners, Leone said his 1,000-student college, which has a recruitment office in Scotch Plains, is lobbying the state to be exempted from the law requiring students to attend classes at the school's charter location.

"We have a fully functioning school," Leone said. "The rule in New Jersey was written to exclude Internet schools. Orr (the Board of Examiners director) has no function to interpret the rules."

And, in response to Gough's report that the college is operated out of a back room in a doctor's office, Leone said the representatives from the embassy had checked out the wrong building.

"When we found out, we set up a meeting, we provided them with the proper information and everything was fine after that," Leone said.

St. Peter's College officials said they had visited the college's Luton offices - a rented space in a commercial building - for a week last autumn.

Ken Thorbourne covers education. He can be reached at [email protected].