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January 29, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Benefits of a medical school in Las Vegas would far outweigh the cost

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Build a medical school.

There’s a lot to chew on in a 178-page report presented to the Economic Development Board on Monday, but that one stood out to me for its short- and long-term benefits.

The report, prepared by researchers with the Brookings Institution and SRI International, is a “sector analysis,” a guidebook for policymakers on what areas of economic activity we should try to specialize in and what policies to enact to get there. Not surprisingly, health care is near the top of the list.

Why do we have so much potential for growth in health care? It’s not because we’re going to become a place people fly to for care like the Mayo Clinic — though we can shoot for that. It’s because we have so far to go just to be adequate. It’s as if we’re a city of two million people and only five grocery stores.

(Though, I admit, we do seem to have more than enough plastic surgeons.)

“Bringing the low level of medical service production in Nevada just somewhat closer to the national average would generate substantial, stable economic activity and high quality jobs in the state while improving health outcomes,” the report states.

The report says what we know is true anecdotally from friends and family and often our elected officials and business leaders: “Many patients (if financially able) go out of state for specialty care and procedures.”

We have some idea why this is so. We haven’t invested in our health care infrastructure, which is one of several reasons we have trouble attracting enough talented health care professionals.

See my colleagues’ investigation of Las Vegas hospital care, “Do No Harm,” for instance. Experts told my former colleague Marshall Allen that academic medicine — med schools — promote a culture of quality across a community’s health care sector.

Monday’s report states under “Industry Constraints”: “Inadequate medical education and research activities in the state’s largest medical market.”

Our best med students leave Las Vegas, and too often they never return. We also can’t get the same research and philanthropic money. It’s not as if anyone is eager to give a boatload of money to University Medical Center or one of our for-profit hospitals. (The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is the nice exception.)

In the end, too many of our patients receive mediocre care, or they go elsewhere.

The report notes the med school in Reno has a footprint here, but “compared to similarly sized or smaller cities in the Western U.S. region — such as Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Phoenix — all of which have highly research-oriented medical schools, Southern Nevada is undeniably placed at a disadvantage.” No kidding.

There’s more to say about the report, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in future columns. But for now, all I can say is, build a med school for crying out loud.

We don’t have the money? This is the economic equivalent of declining to buy yourself eye glasses because you can’t afford it.

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  1. The state of Nevada can't afford the universities and colleges it now has in operation so how is it going to afford a medical school? We have a half baked dental school and law school which are about as promising of full success as a dog house without a roof. The Sandoval regime has cut to the bare bone funding of K-12 schools as well as our local higher education institutions. Let's get real about a full blown medical school. Nice idea, but in Nevada it will never fly. This state can't afford to hire the best teachers and professors, only high paid and rewarded coaches. Dumb idea, waste of time, it is time to move on to another subject!

  2. I agree with Mr. Coolican that Las Vegas would have and would benefit from a medical school; however, I believe the time for that opportunity has passed. Shortsightedness on the part of our brilliant senators, representatives, legislators, governors, and regents has blown it. Creating a medical school should have been done a long time ago when Vegas was thriving. Maybe it is only fitting that the leaders, so called, that are here in Vegas stay in Vegas.

  3. It can be done - It's called Taxing those who can afford to pay more. Provide a Free Education for those willing to practice in Nevada for 5 years or more. Preferences given to In-State High Performing Students.
    There are many ways to get there, also include an Engineering School for Medical Devices. Partner with the new VA Hospital.
    What we need is politicians that are Leaders, otherwise Harry Reid and Sandoval might as well build a Hospital Train to SOCAL which Southern Nevadans can use to get better care.

  4. @Virgil, the Boyd Law School is actually a nationally recognized law school with excellent academics. Thanks for trying to sound educated, though. Maybe next time, okay?

  5. First, the idea of a Med School here in Vegas is nothing short of great. Why it's in Reno is beyond me. Second, the the city's not far from becoming a "medical destination," at that's a fine idea as well. Third, and though I'm not sure about this, though I come from a medical family, I suspect it would improve our "teaching hospital" situation, which would be good for all. Fourth, it's beyond who could be opposed to this. We have a university that can grow and perhaps become "world class," not that it's "bad" at this point. It seems to me that we should do all in our power to make our city known for more than "gaming," strip clubs and shows.

  6. I like it I would donate.

  7. The reason people go out of state for specialty care has nothing to do with having a university hospital in Southern Nevada and everything to do with population size.

    The benefits of a medical school DO NOT outweigh the costs. The costs are very expensive and the benefits are primarly to the students, not the taxpayers or patients.

    If we need more doctors the cheaper thing to do is buy them from other state or UNR.

  8. "Do no harm" was also plagued by journalistic bias (against private hospitals) contradicted by his own evidence.

    I tear apart Mr. Marshall's unwaranted conclusions here:

  9. Virgil,

    NSHE's revenues are down 1.1 percent since 2007.

    IF NSHE's leadership had of saved some of the money that was used to increase spending between 2007 and 2009 there would have been no cuts at all.

    Unfortunately, the people who lead or universities (and government) are often too busy trying to figure out ways to spend as much as possible rather than spending as effectively as possible.