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April 16, 2014

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Higher education:

Answering questions about a proposed new medical school in Las Vegas

Nevada’s higher education leaders announced plans last week to open a medical school at UNLV.

The news immediately generated buzz on campus and around Las Vegas.

Unlike other major campus proposals recently – such as a football stadium or apartment-style dorms – the UNLV medical school represents a largely academic endeavor. Supporters believe such a school will transform the university and Southern Nevada.

Proponents argue a UNLV school of medicine has the potential to cure Las Vegas’ health care ills, such as its physician shortages and residents’ poor health outcomes. They also hope a UNLV medical school would diversify Southern Nevada’s battered economy by spurring clinical research and attracting new medical businesses and tourism.

Since Nevada university leaders have inked a deal, plenty of questions abound. Here’s a sampling, with some answers:

Why hasn’t there been a medical school in Las Vegas?

For years, Southern Nevadans have lobbied for a four-year, allopathic medical school at UNLV. They argue Las Vegas is home to the majority of the state’s population and is the largest metropolitan region in the country without an M.D.-granting medical school.

Many Southern Nevadans believe Las Vegas doesn’t have a medical school because of a longstanding geopolitical rivalry between Northern and Southern Nevada.

The state’s only medical school is operated by UNR. Medical students take classes in Reno during their first two years, and some of them complete their practical training at University Medical Center in Las Vegas during their final two years of medical school.

What kind of deal has been reached to create a UNLV medical school?

Last week, the leaders of the Nevada System of Higher Education, UNLV, UNR and the University of Nevada School of Medicine signed a preliminary agreement – or memorandum of understanding – to create a UNLV school of medicine. Nevada’s higher education leaders said this agreement represented their collective vision for a UNLV medical school and they were firmly committed to seeing it happen.

Regents are expected to vote on the agreement in December. If the regents approve, UNLV and UNR leaders will begin a long-term discussion to figure out the logistics of the financing, building, programming and accreditation for the new medical school.

How do Nevada’s higher education leaders propose to create a UNLV medical school?

It won’t be from scratch. UNR and its medical school would help UNLV kick-start its own medical school.

In the next few years, UNLV would open a medical school under the accreditation of the University of Nevada School of Medicine. The idea is for the UNLV institution to become its own independently accredited and financially operated medical school.

What’s the time frame to open a UNLV medical school, and when will it become independent from UNR?

A top national health care consulting firm believes that UNLV can open a four-year, allopathic medical school by 2016 and become fully accredited by 2020. The firm recommended UNLV begin its medical school with an initial class of 60 students and grow to an incoming class of 120 students by 2030.

Nevada’s higher education leaders haven’t set a “date certain” for the UNLV medical school’s independence. The partnership agreement says a date would depend on the “availability of adequate resources.”

How much is the UNLV medical school going to cost, and what does this mean financially for UNR’s medical school?

Building a Southern Nevada medical school will require “substantial incremental funding” from state and private sources, according to the partnership agreement. Funding is necessary to build a new facility for the UNLV medical school and create new fellowships and residencies to keep physician interns in Nevada. New doctors are more likely to settle and open a local practice where they completed their residencies.

The construction cost alone for the UNLV medical school is estimated around $80 million. For comparison, the medical school at Virginia Tech cost $59 million and the University of Central Florida medical school in Orlando, Fla., cost $68 million. Construction costs are generally higher in Las Vegas; for example, UNLV’s most recent academic building – Greenspun Hall – was dedicated in 2008 and cost about $94 million.

Nevada’s higher education leaders were adamant funding levels be maintained at the UNR medical school. The University of Nevada medical school should also grow in tandem with the proposed new UNLV medical school, leaders said.

How are university leaders planning to raise money for this UNLV medical school, and where is it going to be built?

UNLV is planning another seven- to 10-year fundraising campaign that it hopes will raise more than $500 million for a new medical school and an on-campus football stadium. The university’s previous fundraising campaign netted $537 million. Proponents hope a UNLV-branded medical school would generate more donations from Southern Nevada physicians.

The location for the new medical school hasn’t been decided. Earlier this year, Nevada’s higher education leaders proposed expanding the UNR medical school’s footprint in Las Vegas by building a $220 million academic medical center near UNLV’s Shadow Lane campus. That area, which houses UNLV’s dental school and UMC, is considered to be Las Vegas’ medical corridor.

North Las Vegas officials, who recently heralded the opening of a new Veterans Affairs hospital, are hoping to lure UNLV into building a medical school on 1,900 acres of undeveloped city land zoned for health care projects.

What’s our return on investment for this UNLV medical school?

The health care consultants estimated a UNLV school of medicine could have a $1.2 billion total economic impact to Nevada, including the creation of 5,353 jobs and $94 million in tax revenue by 2030.

That represents six times the current economic impact of the UNR medical school, at $285 million. Coincidentally, the consultants found the University of Nevada School of Medicine ranks the lowest among all 134 U.S. public, allopathic medical schools when it comes to economic impact.

Statewide, the two medical schools could have a total economic impact of $1.9 billion, according to the consultants. They estimate that Nevada would see a return of about $12.48 for every $1 invested into a UNLV medical school.

Creating a UNLV medical school also would diversify Nevada’s economy, boosting its health care sector in particular. Currently, only 7 percent of Las Vegas’ economy is in the health care sector – the smallest share among the top 100 cities nationally, according to a Brookings Institution report.

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