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July 11, 2014

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Touro University open to partnering with UNLV on health care

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Steve Marcus

Former U. S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) speaks about the need for Nevada residency programs during an editorial board meeting at the Las Vegas Sun offices Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Berkley is the new CEO and senior provost of the Touro College and University system in Nevada and California.

Six weeks after taking the helm of Touro University Nevada, Shelley Berkley said her private medical school is willing to explore the "possibility of partnering with UNLV" to improve health care in Nevada.

The former Democratic congresswoman said Thursday she plans to have a conversation with UNLV acting President Don Snyder about a potential partnership between the two universities “in due time.” Berkley recently became the CEO and senior provost of New York-based Touro University’s Western Division, which includes its osteopathic medical school in Henderson.

The idea of cooperating in some way with UNLV came to Berkley when Touro University President and CEO Alan Kadish visited her campus earlier this week, she said. Upon hearing that UNLV was planning to create its own medical school, Kadish suggested that Touro could partner with UNLV to help solve Nevada’s physician shortage.

Berkley, a former Nevada regent for eight years, said she doesn’t know what a potential partnership between the two schools could look like. However, she was encouraged by Kadish’s interest, she said.

“I didn’t realize we could be that creative,” Berkley said of Kadish’s proposal. “Touro could provide just about any program that this state needs. We should be discussing in this state anything that could increase the number of physicians and health care providers.”

The goal, she said, is "to provide the best possible access to medical care in the state, together. I’m certainly not partnering with (UNLV) to create a medical school. I’m neutral on that. But we're open to exploring partnerships with UNLV with or without a medical school. We may sit down and brainstorm ways to work together so we are providing quality health care."

This news comes as UNLV is working with the University of Nevada School of Medicine to kickstart an allopathic medical school in Las Vegas. Nevada’s higher education leaders have approved an agreement that would allow UNLV to create its own medical school using the UNR medical school’s accreditation, and eventually becoming an independently accredited institution.

In the coming days, UNLV is set to announce a planning dean for its medical school. The temporary dean would serve a hybrid role of consultant and academic leader, helping the aspirational university shepherd its vision for a medical school to completion.

However, plans for a UNLV medical school are in the preliminary stages, and UNLV officials have said they are open to working with other medical schools.

“We don’t foreclose on any partnerships at all,” UNLV Senior Vice President and Provost John White said. “We’re willing to listen and hear about prospective partnerships. There are quite a lot of institutions in state and out of state that could be helpful partners. The key thing is it would have to be mutually beneficial.”

Regent Mark Doubrava, who led the charge for creating a UNLV medical school, said a potential partnership with Touro is something the university could explore. However, the Las Vegas-based ophthalmologist acknowledged there are many challenges in bringing the two sides together.

UNLV is looking to start an allopathic, or M.D.-granting, medical school that is focused on producing doctors, specialists and medical research, Doubrava said. However, Touro is an osteopathic, or D.O.-granting, medical school that is focused primarily on teaching and producing primary care physicians, nurses and physician assistants.

The two types of medical schools also have two different accrediting organizations, Doubrava added.

“That’s one big obstacle,” Doubrava said. “It doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some shared services.”

Nevada Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Page echoed his colleague’s sentiments, saying he will sit down with anyone interested in helping UNLV create its own medical school. However, the Las Vegas investment banker said he was curious to hear more about Touro’s motivation to partner with UNLV.

Historically, Touro has advocated against a UNLV medical school in favor of creating more medical residencies. These three-year internship-like programs allow newly minted doctors to hone their skills and become licensed.

Page surmised that Touro may be looking to partner with a UNLV medical school to help give its students better access to residencies. Students graduating with D.O. degrees can apply for residencies open to M.D. and D.O. recipients, while students with M.D. degrees can only apply for residencies open to M.D. recipients.

“It’s a strategic change for Touro, a complete 180,” Page said. “I get where they’re coming from. It’s in their best interest to have more medical residencies for their students.”

For some Southern Nevadans concerned about UNR’s influence over UNLV’s proposed new medical school, a local partnership with Touro may be enticing.

Lindy Schumacher, director of Nevada giving for the Lincy Foundation, said she is thrilled that Touro is interested in partnering with UNLV. She said the university should discuss all options and pick the partnership that works best for UNLV.

“You have 2.2 million people in Las Vegas,” Schumacher said. “We need a medical school and a substantial one. Not a satellite one.”

This story has been updated to clarify Berkley’s comments about a possible relationship betwen Touro and UNLV.

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