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April 23, 2014

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UNLV, UNR close to plan that would create medical school in Southern Nevada

The presidents of UNR and UNLV are close to signing a preliminary partnership agreement that could lead to a school in Southern Nevada that would mint medical doctors.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich, UNR President Marc Johnson, University of Nevada School of Medicine Dean Tom Schwenk and UNLV President Neal Smatresk are expected to sign an agreement by the end of this week.

The agreement, or memorandum of understanding, outlines a vision for UNR and UNLV to work together to create a UNLV medical school that would open in the next several years and eventually become independent, Klaich said. University leaders finished drafting the memorandum Monday night; it has yet to be released to the media or public.

Klaich announced news of the agreement during an UNLV Lincy Institute forum Tuesday morning that explored the case for a M.D.-granting medical school in Las Vegas.

The forum featured a presentation on the UNLV medical school’s potential economic impact as well as a panel discussion with community leaders. The event attracted a small but powerful group of state legislators, higher education leaders and representatives from Southern Nevada business organizations. Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in the United States without an allopathic medical school

The idea for a UNLV medical school has been brewing for decades. Currently, UNR operates the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Medical students take their classes in Reno and complete their practical training at UMC in Las Vegas.

In March, Regent Mark Doubrava -- a graduate of both UNLV and UNR's medical school -- began drumming up public support for a second medical school at UNLV. He envisions one that would educate high-quality physicians, spur medical research, attract new medical businesses and make Las Vegas a mecca for medical tourism.

Although the University of Nevada School of Medicine has a presence in Las Vegas, Doubrava argued it has not served Southern Nevada’s health needs by solving its shortage of physicians. Efforts to expand the medical school’s footprint in Southern Nevada have been inadequate, Doubrava added.

“There has to be separation, but continued collaboration,” Doubrava said. “(The medical school) is down here, but they’re not embraced here by the community.”

After Doubrava opened the discussion for a Southern Nevada medical school, UNLV’s Lincy Institute commissioned Tripp Umbach, a top national health care consulting firm, to complete an economic impact study for $50,000. Over the past six months, Tripp Umbach ran financial models and interviewed dozens of health care professionals and educators about the need of a medical school in Las Vegas.

Ultimately, the consultants found that a proposed UNLV School of Medicine would have a $1.2 billion total economic impact, including the creation of 5,353 jobs and $94 million in tax revenue by 2030.

Currently, the University of Nevada School of Medicine has a statewide economic impact of $285 million, according to a 2011 economic impact study commissioned by UNR. For comparison, Pittsburgh, which is approximately the size of Las Vegas, has six medical schools and a $20 billion health care sector.

“Health care is where we ought to be making our investment,” said Brian McAnallen, the vice president of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, after hearing the economic impact report. “It’s the only sector that was recession-proof and the only sector that was hiring through the recession.

Tripp Umbach also made several recommendations for a UNLV medical school, which were presented at the forum by the company’s co-founder and president Paul Umbach:

• UNLV’s medical school needs an investment of about $80 million to build its initial facilities. It should be a four-year medical, allopathic medical school that ought to be accredited by the Liaison Committee of Medical Education by 2020.

• The medical school should open in 2016 with 60 students, growing to 120 students per class by 2030. To meet the future market demand for physicians, the UNLV medical school should educate at least 480 medical students by 2030.

• To support its new medical school graduates and to retain them in-state, Las Vegas must create a minimum of 240 new residency positions. Nevada Assemblyman Andy Eisen, D-Las Vegas, and Nevada Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, who both work for Touro University’s osteopathic medical school, argued that creating more residencies is key in preventing a proposed UNLV medical school from becoming an “exporter of doctors.”

• To have the greatest economic impact, UNLV’s medical school should start as an UNR-affiliated medical school that eventually becomes an independent medical school. The UNLV medical school should not become a regional campus where it could become a “forgotten stepchild” of the founding medical school.

“UNR has an established track record — it’s accredited and has been established for enough time,” Umbach said. “It’s an important starting point. A partnership model is the best way to leverage funds and maximize its economic impact.”

A partnership model, where an existing medical school helps kickstart another school, has been tried in many states, including Arizona, Virginia and Texas. For example, in Louisiana, the medical school at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge helped start a medical school in Shreveport, Umbach said.

The timeframe for the birth of an independent UNLV medical school, and how to successfully do it, has not been set, Klaich said.

Klaich, who was previously skeptical of a UNLV medical school, said he now believes that one could co-exist with a UNR medical school without each hurting the other financially. Klaich pointed to a recent $20 million National Institutes of Health grant that Nevada won through a partnership between UNR and UNLV.

“There is something that’s happening now,” Klaich said. “People are beginning to realize we can do more together than throwing firebombs at each other.”

However, North-South tensions continued to flare up during Tuesday’s forum as some questioned whether UNR would help UNLV start its own medical school.

“There is a 30-year history of begging UNR to help us with this program. We’ve made zero progress,” said Lindy Schumacher, the director of Nevada Giving for The Dream Fund at UCLA. "What if there’s no interest from UNR? What is our backup plan? I’m tired of waiting to have a UNLV medical school.”

Klaich responded with news of the agreement, and stated that a UNLV medical school was among the state’s top priorities.

“I know your angst over this,” Klaich said. “This will be done. I can’t do anything about the last 30 years, but I can do something about the next 10.”

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