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September 30, 2014

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Report: Medical school at UNLV could have $900 million economic impact

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Students sit outside the student union on the campus of UNLV Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

Anybody who thinks injecting the Las Vegas economy with $900 million is a good idea, please take heed.

If a new UNLV medical school opened in 2017, it could improve health outcomes in Las Vegas, create thousands of jobs, bolster state coffers by $44 million in annual tax revenue, and have an overall economic impact of at least $882 million by 2030, according to a draft copy of a study conducted for UNLV’s Lincy Institute.

The report from Tripp Umbach, a top national health care consulting firm, is the first to examine various medical school models for Southern Nevada and evaluate the economic impact of each.

It concluded that the price tag for a medical school at UNLV would be $68 million, much less than the $220 million estimated cost for an academic medical center near UMC that was discussed earlier this year. And it recommends an allopathic medical school that trains doctors of medicine rather than an osteopathic medical school like Touro University in Henderson, which trains doctors of osteopathy.

Regent Mark Doubrava first proposed the idea of a second medical school in Southern Nevada in March.

He welcomed the report’s findings and said it’s time for the state to have a medical school in both Southern and Northern Nevada.

“You’d kill two birds with one stone; you can elevate health care and improve the economy at the same time,” said Doubrava, a Las Vegas ophthalmologist. “I, of course, like the report because it validates what I’ve been trying to do. It looks like to me that the logical partner is your local university, and that is UNLV.”

The report, however, could stoke long simmering north-south regional rivalries because UNR already operates the University of Nevada School of Medicine, and many third- and fourth-year medical students study in Las Vegas.

For example, a doctor at the University of Nevada School of Medicine called the idea of a separate medical school in Southern Nevada “one of the more preposterous health policy proposals of late” in a Reno Gazette-Journal column published earlier this year.

The Tripp Umbach report found that a lack of physicians and poor health outcomes make Las Vegas a prime market for a medical school. The Las Vegas metropolitan area is the largest region in the U.S. without an allopathic medical school, the report says.

When examining how to best establish a medical school, Tripp Umbach determined that UNLV would bring to bear the research infrastructure and academic rigor necessary to create a successful school and help address the physician shortfall in the community.

Tripp Umbach also said the affiliation with an established university such as UNLV would provide the best bang for the buck in terms of job creation, economic impact and tax revenue for the state and its residents.

The consultants found independent medical schools and regional campuses of existing medical schools such as the University of Nevada School of Medicine have less economic value.

The consultants recommend that a “coordinating council” representing both UNR and UNLV work together to launch the medical school and put it under the sole control of UNLV after 2020.

Under the Tripp Umbach model, the new four-year medical school would welcome its first class of students in 2017.

Such a plan would need approval from the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents and would likely require at least $34 million in state funding that the Legislature and governor would need to approve in 2015.

The report is silent about the location of a medical school but recommends space for 120 students per class — 480 students total — by 2020.

That plan, however, might not fly with everyone.

Regent Rick Trachok of Washoe County said that the regents are already considering a Southern Nevada medical school campus affiliated with the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

“At some point in the future, when you have the southern component built out and the northern component built out, then you would have the split-off and then you would have a UNLV School of Medicine and UNR School of Medicine,” he said.

He noted that the regents and UNLV did not request this report, which the Lincy Institute commissioned at a cost of $50,000.

(The Lincy Institute is, however, funded through UNLV; its staff and faculty are UNLV employees.)

Trachok said the regents will take the report into consideration in their own work to expand medical education in Nevada.

“Completely independent of all of that, and I can’t address the timing, this draft report was dropped on our desks,” he said. “It doesn’t give us any direction. It doesn’t give us any funding. And it doesn’t bring the Legislature to the table with a checkbook.”

At stake in this debate is the notion that there isn’t room in Nevada for two medical schools. “We’re not going to have two medical schools competing against one another,” said Regent Kevin Page, the chairman of the board. “It’s more of a partnership, not UNLV all on its own and UNR all on its own.”

The Tripp Umbach report concluded, however, that 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.

Using its Association of American Medical Colleges database, Tripp Umbach said the University of Nevada School of Medicine has a $285 million economic impact on Nevada, about one-sixth of the economic impact of similar colleges in the database.

A new UNLV School of Medicine, however, could spur the further development of medical industries and academic medical research in Nevada as a whole, leading to economic growth in both Reno and Las Vegas, the report says.

“You can say this is a win-win for both Las Vegas and the Reno area,” Doubrava said, saying it can put to rest claims from Southern Nevadans that the state should transfer the medical school to Southern Nevada.

He said the University of Nevada School of Medicine has had a difficult time raising money in Southern Nevada because of its affiliation with UNR.

“What’s happened is the Reno School of Medicine, it’s a casualty of the North-South struggle,” he said, noting that he’s a graduate of the University of Nevada School of Medicine and UNLV. “I don’t think the Reno school can mature and prosper throughout the whole state, so the next step is you cut the umbilical cord.”

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