Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health on track to welcome students in August | Local News

The new Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health is not yet ready to welcome visitors, but Dr. Karen Restifo can already see what the inside of the building will look like in a few short months.

“Every time I come in here, it’s more and more inspiring,” said Restifo, regional vice dean of Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health, during a recent tour of the building. “I can envision the students studying here, and the faculty and staff coming in and getting ready for the students to come.”

Drexel College of Medicine Tour May 2021 exterior

An exterior photo of the Drexel University College of Medicine. During a tour of the Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health under construction in Wyomissing Tuesday afternoon May 4, 2021.

The six-story, 180,000-square-foot building is on track to welcome its inaugural class of 40 first-year medical students in August at 50 Innovation Way in Wyomissing. In an email to the Reading Eagle, Tower Health said the cost of the building is not being disclosed.

Tower Health’s financial situation or what impact, if any, the health system’s debt and being up for sale could have on the medical school project were not discussed during the tour. The health system previously stated it “is forging ahead with its joint venture.”

“The opening of Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health will open on scheduled as planned,” was Tower Health’s emailed comment after the tour.

Tower Health and Drexel University announced plans in 2018 to partner to build a medical school in Berks County.

Mark McNash, senior vice president of support services at Tower Health, said the project started in January 2019 with drawings finalized in April 2019. Construction started in June 2019, and the final beam was placed atop the building in May 2020.

REG-L-Drexel College of Medicine Tour TOPIX 4

Mark McNash, Senior Vice President Support Services at Tower Health, front, and Vincent Fitzgerald Superintendent at LF Driscoll, back left. Inside the gross anatomy lab under construction on the first floor. During a tour of the Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health under construction in Wyomissing Tuesday afternoon May 4, 2021.

Drexel University College of Medicine will occupy the first four floors of the building while the additional space will be available for other tenants. 

“These students are part of the College of Medicine in Philadelphia,” Restifo said. “They’re part of the same classes, the same curriculum. The students will just be getting lectures and being taught clinical exam skills here.”

Restifo said the goal of the school is to train students so they can earn their medical degree, then go into any residency of their choosing. 

“We want them to be trained really, really well,” she said.

Working stiffs

The new building features state-of-the-art technology.

In addition to classrooms, the building features five simulated patient rooms including one for operating room simulations, 12 clinical exam rooms and an anatomy laboratory. Control rooms connected to the simulated patient rooms allow faculty to observe students while they work and simulate nearly any kind of scenario students may face as physicians by using mannequins.

“The technology with the mannequins is incredible,” McNash said. “They’re so lifelike with everything from a pulse, temperature and various reactions to every organ that you want to focus on can be simulated in any one of these rooms.”

The rooms allow students to have as close to a hands-on experience as possible in the safety of a classroom.

“Which is great,” Restifo said. “It’s a low-risk situation because it’s a mannequin. They really love it because they get to build their confidence and learn. They can do almost any scenario.”

The rooms will also be equipped with video recording capabilities so students can have a debriefing in one of the classrooms and review the footage similar to how game-tape is used in sports. 

Standardized patients, volunteers playing the role of a patient with certain symptoms, will be used in the clinical exam rooms that are made to look like a doctor’s office. 

Restifo said the school will provide a lot of small group learning that will better allow students to learn from faculty and one another.

“Here’s what I know: These are going to be some very lucky students,” she said.

In designing the building, thought was also put into enhancing student life outside of the classroom.

The building features an open lobby with a tiered-seating area and stairs connecting to the second floor, small group and study rooms, student lounges, information commons, a fitness center and movement studio, and a 75-person capacity open terrace on the third floor.

“Obviously it’s a building for learning, but one of the other things we really took into account is the downtime for the students,” McNash said. “One of the things we learned as we toured other medical schools is that the one thing they always said at the end of the day they underestimated was the amount of study space. I think we’ve done a pretty good job creating that space.”

The first floor will also feature a cafe and vending area with parking and bike racks centrally located outside the building.

Drexel College of Medicine Tour May 2021 lobby

Inside the first floor lobby under construction. During a tour of the Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health under construction in Wyomissing Tuesday afternoon May 4, 2021.

Community benefits

More than just the students will benefit from the new medical school.

“Drexel is known for community engagement,” Restifo said. “We want to make a real difference in the community, that’s what physicians should do.”

Restifo said the students will be involved with the communities around the school.

“We want them to be inspired by their patients,” she said. “We want them to learn about their community. We want them to like the community, and hopefully stay in the community becoming attendings and physicians, and give back to the community.”

The school and the people it brings to the area will have an economic impact on businesses and development in and around Wyomissing. One of the projects connected to the building of the school is already underway.

The school has helped make Wyomissing’s Fourth Street Extension project possible. One piece of the project is the installation of a roundabout on Innovation Way on the lot next to the Teleflex building that will connect to Fourth Street.

“That whole project, which also ties into the borough’s bike and pedestrian plan, came to fruition because of the medical school project,” said Michele Bare, Wyomissing assistant borough manager and economic development coordinator. “The borough had always known there was a traffic issue. Vehicles would come down Park Road, cut east onto Greenwich Street, then cut onto Fourth Street. They were using a residential neighborhood as a bypass to shortcut the light at Park Road and North Wyomissing Boulevard.”

According to Bare, the borough asked for an easement through the former Vanity Fair property when Equus, which acquired the property in 2016, provided the land development plans for Teleflex.

The borough asked for the easements in hopes of one day creating a better traffic flow design for what motorists were already doing.

“We thought it was a pipe dream that was never going to happen because we never really envisioned another user on that site that would generate enough interest and traffic that would warrant doing a project of that magnitude,” Bare said. “Then lo and behold they got the medical school to come.”

The roundabout is not yet open.

REG-L-Drexel College of Medicine Tour TOPIX 5

In the tiered team-based learning space under construction on the first floor.

‘Visionary planning’

Bare said the medical school further puts Wyomissing on the map as students, teachers and faculty will be coming to the area from Philadelphia. 

“That in turn, from what we’ve seen, has spurred some interest in development both residential and commercial,” Bare said. “There’s a lot of things that came out of this both immediate planning concerns or needs, and long-term more visionary planning for what we see the impact of the school having on the neighborhood.”

Since the project was announced and construction has started, Bare said the borough has been approached by business owners looking to relocate to the area as well as developers.

Property values are also likely to increase in the upcoming years, which will lead to a higher transfer tax when those properties are sold, Bare said. The borough receives a portion of that tax.

“There’s a much bigger long-term financial positive impact to the borough because of all those tax implications,” Bare said.

Bare said it has been rewarding for her, borough staff and elected officials to see the building going up. 

“It’s a phenomenal building and I think any municipality would be happy just to have that building regardless of the use in their boundaries,” Bare said. “But to take it one step further, that it’s a medical school in partnership with Drexel University, that’s a game changer.”

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