Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Time for a medical school

North-South divide shouldn’t stop creation of a school at UNLV

In a unanimous vote Thursday, university system regents approved an agreement between UNLV and UNR that could lead to a public medical school in Southern Nevada. The regents’ action is just the start of a long process, but this is an important step.

Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area without a public allopathic — M.D. granting — medical school, and that hasn’t helped the quality or quantity of health care in the region.

A good public medical school generates more doctors for a region and raises the level of health care through specialty practices and research that doesn’t already exist.

Given that studies have shown that Las Vegas doesn’t have the necessary health care services for an area of its size, putting a public medical school in Clark County makes sense. Add to that a study by the Lincy Institute at UNLV that suggests a medical school could generate $900 million to the economy, and it’s a no-brainer.

There’s clearly a need for a medical school here, but that doesn’t mean it will happen or happen easily. The medical school is steeped in the old North-South political divide that has stalled progress in Nevada, and that could threaten to derail the plans.

Some university officials and politicians over the years have said there’s no need for another medical school because Las Vegas already has one — the University of Nevada School of Medicine, which is supposed to be a statewide medical school.

Those claims have irritated Southern Nevadans because the reality is that the school is based in Reno and run from the UNR campus. Consider that the medical school dean is also a UNR vice president, overseeing the campus’ Division of Health Sciences.

Students at the medical school do their foundational work in Reno, where there’s a full campus, for two years and then do at least some clinical work in Las Vegas.

Aside from that, the medical school doesn’t have a major presence in Southern Nevada, and it certainly hasn’t had the impact that it should.

But Northern Nevada power brokers have long protected the status quo. In the past decade, the regents passed a rule to ban a second public medical school in the state until 2025. (The regents moved Thursday to overturn that rule.)

So what’s wrong with creating a second medical school? It wouldn’t mean the end of the school in Reno. There would certainly be cooperation between the two schools, especially until the Southern Nevada school gains accreditation.

There appear to be concerns about control, as if Southern Nevada didn’t have the expertise or ability to handle such a task without our northern cousins.

Regents have expressed concerns about money, but if the regents and university officials are clear that UNLV will have its own school, they shouldn’t have a problem attracting donors who want to see Southern Nevada thrive.

And to be clear, this wouldn’t just be good for Southern Nevada, it would be good for Northern Nevada as well.

There are great differences between Reno, which is still a small metropolitan area, and Las Vegas, which is an international destination. Just in terms of size alone the difference is stark: Washoe County, which includes Reno, has about a fifth of the population of Clark County.

Having two separate medical schools will allow the universities to focus on the differing needs in their own communities, and that should improve health care and be a win for the entire state.

Regents and university officials should strongly support the plan to create an independent medical school based at UNLV, and they should work quickly to make that happen.

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