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Officials would welcome second medical school for Nevada

Most people think of the University of Nevada School of Medicine as Reno’s medical school because it’s on the UNR campus, but administrators there say Las Vegas is a key component, and it should be viewed as a statewide school.

The four-year school has 266 medical students, of whom 91 are from Las Vegas. And after an initial two years on campus, students participate in a yearlong clerkship in Las Vegas where they receive on-site training in surgery, emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine and other specialties at hospitals and other facilities. Of 335 postgraduate residency positions for UNSOM students, 234 are in Las Vegas. Just 101 are in Reno.

“It’s a statewide medical school because we have an impact in all 17 counties in the state, especially here in Las Vegas,” UNR President Marc Johnson said during a recent trip to Southern Nevada. “It’s extremely important to Las Vegas because half of the school’s $160 million budget is spent in Clark County. We are providing a great deal of clinical service already, and we are training a lot of doctors that do their residency in Las Vegas and stay in Las Vegas. The statewide medical school is very important to Las Vegas right now.”

The state provides $30 million to the school, with the bulk of is total budget coming from clinical revenue, hospital contracts and other sources. UNSOM officials support starting a medical school at UNLV but also seek additional state money to grow their own program. That includes expanded clerkships and postgraduate residencies.

“Our No. 1 priority in the state is to create more graduate medical education slots because it is well known that there’s a 70 percent chance that where doctors get their MD degree and do their residency is where they tend to stay,” Johnson said. “If we want our medical students to graduate from medical school and stay in Nevada, we have to create more quality graduate medical opportunities for them right here in Nevada. We have already invested to get them their medical education here.”

The University of Nevada School of Medicine would play a role if a new medical school is created in Southern Nevada.

“We’re really early in the conversation,” Johnson said. “It’s a possibility we can start a separate school destined to be the UNLV School of Medicine, but in order to kick-start it may operate under the existing accreditation of the Nevada School of Medicine as a regional campus after which time it could separate out as a separate school. We just don’t know the pathway. There’s no reason to start a medical school if it’s not going to be accredited.”

UNSOM Dean Thomas Schwenk said it’s too early to predict when state funding would be available for a second medical school but said even a separate school managed by UNLV would benefit UNSOM.

“I think it will be complementary,” Schwenk said. “It will be a positive collaboration. I think whenever you have another academic unit and new research programs and teaching programs, the more is better. It will bring the two universities together, which is positive.”

Johnson said he doesn’t believe starting a second medical school will affect state funding for UNSOM.

“It’s not like they’re carving out a school for UNLV out of an existing medical school,” Johnson said. “The vision here is that we are going to expand medical education to create more doctors for Nevada. So I think the talk of a UNLV medical school is a talk of growth.”

The UNSOM was established in 1969 by the Nevada Legislature as a community-based medical school with a mission of educating primary care physicians for rural Nevada. Initially started as a two-year school with the first class entering in the fall of 1971, the school later became a full four-year medical school. The school’s graduating class of 1981 was the first to receive all four years of undergraduate medical education in Nevada, said UNSOM spokeswoman Anne McMillin.

UNSOM admitted 70 students into its medical school in 2013 and projects a similar number next year. Some 58 students are expected to graduate in May.

The first two years of the curriculum — the basic science years — are taught at the Reno campus. The third and fourth years — the clinical years — are spent in hospitals and clinics throughout the state.

Schwenk said the current structure of the medical school is inadequate to address the state’s health care workforce needs. Having the first two years of education in Reno and much of the remainder in Las Vegas has hurt the state’s ability to develop a full pipeline of medical students as well as a full set of residency and training programs, he said

“Support for expanding the size and quality of the school’s teaching and research programs has lagged because of the political tension of where the school is based,” Schwenk said. “Reno does not have a full campus, including clinical teaching capacity, to adequately serve its constituents, and Las Vegas does not have a full campus, including academic facilities, to adequately serve its constituents.”