Nevada regent wants to add medical school in Las Vegas

One state official is going where few policymakers dare.

Mark Doubrava, a Las Vegas eye doctor and state university regent, said Tuesday that UNLV needs a medical school, and he plans to bring the issue up for discussion when regents meet in June.

If that discussion happens, it will be a first in modern Nevada history, Doubrava said.

Though some medical students complete residencies at University Medical Center, the University of Nevada School of Medicine is based in Reno. That makes Las Vegas the largest city with no allopathic medical school, or one that grants a traditional M.D., Doubrava told the Review-Journal editorial board.

It also makes Reno the smallest city in the Intermountain West with one.

Doubrava, a 1989 grad of the School of Medicine at Reno, said adding a medical school in the south would help alleviate doctor shortages, bring in more federal research dollars, improve the city’s reputation in medical circles and boost medical tourism.

Doubrava said eyebrows of other regents raised when he suggested in early March that a local medical school be on the discussion agenda in future meetings.

“I want to have a conversation with other regents to find out what their feelings are,” Doubrava said. “If they say it cannot be done, then we have an opportunity to say, ‘Well, it could be done.’ I want to see the appetite for it.”

So far, the appetite has been weak.

Regent Jack Schofield, also of Las Vegas, said politics put the medical school up north. Schofield was a state senator in the 1970s, when the Legislature created the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Powerful lawmakers from Northern Nevada were too strong to overcome in the bid for a medical school, Schofield recalled.

“People from up north, like (Republican state Sen.) Bill Raggio, were very wise politicians, and they learned early how to divide and conquer,” Schofield said. “The thing of it is, we have an opportunity since we have 70 percent of the population here. We could have anything we want, if we would stay together.”

Schofield said Northern Nevada regents could form coalitions and “out-politic” the southerners who outnumber them, so it’s possible the medical school discussion might not make it onto the agenda.

But Regent Ron Knecht of Carson City said politics had nothing to do with the school’s initial location, and it won’t obstruct the conversation now.

When the School of Medicine opened more than 40 years ago, the population difference between Reno and Las Vegas wasn’t as significant, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was only about 15 years old. That made UNR, a land-grant school that opened in 1874, the natural home for the school.

“You have to consider the major quality and scope of the university,” Knecht said. “You tend to put your medical school at your first-tier institution.”

It takes just three board members to get an item on the agenda, and it shouldn’t be difficult for Doubrava to find support from two other board members. Nine of the 13 board members are from Southern Nevada.

Doubrava said he is broaching the subject now because, after two years on the board, he has seen “so much suppression of the natural evolution of a medical school in Southern Nevada that it’s time to stop that.”

Jason Geddes, the Reno-based chairman of the Board of Regents, said in a statement he hasn’t received a formal request to add the issue to the board’s agenda.

“If and when I receive such a request, I would discuss what the implications of a discussion are and what the end result would be to ensure the regents have the information needed for an informed debate,” he said.

Geddes said Doubrava, as chairman of the board’s health sciences system committee, has the authority to add items to the committee’s agenda. But he also noted that fiscal issues are still a concern, with the Nevada System of Higher Education coming out of five years of budget cuts. The regents declined to ask lawmakers in the 2013 session for additional funding for the School of Medicine.

Geddes also said any medical school debate would have to include Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Legislature and the local community.

State Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said he didn’t have anything to add to Geddes’ statement.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.