Nevadan at Work: UNLV dental school dean displays turnaround artistry

It falls to many college deans to go before off-campus groups and seek support, especially when budgets are tight.

But Dr. Karen West may be the only one who has gone before the Turnaround Management Association, which focuses on reviving struggling businesses.

Upon becoming dean of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine in 2007, she walked into both trouble and an academic department that shares many traits with for-profit entities.

When she moved into her office across the street from University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, she was the fifth permanent or interim dean in the school’s five-year existence. Numerous people had opposed the school’s creation, and they renewed their fight against it after the initial promises that it would be financially self-sufficient proved overblown. Several students received diplomas despite being involved in a cheating scandal, provoking further outrage. An ambitious orthodontics program was wobbling with too many students and too little funding after a major corporate sponsor went bankrupt.

With a few years of continuity under West, the debate has subsided. The school now covers about three-fourths of its annual budget — $21.8 million out of nearly $30 million — with tuition, fees, research grants and payments from the 60,000 patients treated there every year. West wants to keep state support around the current level to hold down student costs while building reserves to cover expenses such as new drills and chairs.

Meanwhile, she continues to grapple with issues such as how to price services to patients and costs to students, which now run at $178,000 for a four-year program, to maximize revenue without getting ahead of the market.

Question: Why did you want to walk into the problems the school faced in 2007?

Answer: When I interviewed for the position here, believe it or not, that was the first time I had ever been to Las Vegas in my life. So I wasn’t aware of the way the school was looked at. All I knew was that it was a new school, which attracted me because you can do so much with a new school. It’s like a blank slate and there are a lot of opportunities. But I was only tangentially aware of the problems.

Question: Was there some point when you started to get buyer’s remorse?

Answer: Probably a few times I second-guessed myself. Should I have done this? I ran into things here that I never ran into in Kentucky (her home state and previous professional address). It’s a different environment of living here, whole different social environment. Kentucky is the South; things are kind of slow there. Here, things move at a very fast pace and you have to make decisions and you can’t look back. You move forward.

I thought to myself, “I know I can do this, but is it what I really want to do?” After a couple of years we made changes and things kind of fell into place. I said, “I like this place.” It was different for me to move here. I like the desert, I love the weather, but I miss my green trees.

Question: Why did you stick it out?

Answer: Because I’m not a quitter. If I had left here before things were straightened out, in my opinion, I would have felt like I was a failure. And I don’t deal well with that. I knew I could make a difference. The school had some tremendous potential and it just needed some TLC and some good oversight and management.

Question: To some extent, you were thrown into crisis management. What was your background for that?

Answer: As an academic dean at the University of Kentucky, I was always the bad cop. That’s what academic deans do. They’re the ones that sometimes have to tell students that they flunked out. So I was used to doing that sort of thing.

I had quite a bit of leadership training through different programs in health care.

Question: Did you have to learn a lot on the fly?

Answer: Yes, but I found out that I liked it. … There were so many opportunities to build the school, to expand. I didn’t know how much I was going to have to do, but I came because of that. It’s so much easier to make a difference at a school that hasn’t got a lot of old, established rules.

In Kentucky, for instance, there is the Kentucky way of doing things. Here, we didn’t yet have the UNLV way of doing things and that’s what we have been able to build, I think.

Question: What is the UNLV way of doing things?

Answer: We like to say that the hallmark of our school is our service. We have service to the community and probably have one of the largest programs in the country for what we provide in service. Our philosophy is that here at the school you are going to learn leadership training, you are going to learn to give back to the community and you are going to have a quality education.

Question: It seems as if you are more of a CEO than a typical dean.

Answer: Most dental school deans have to be business managers because we have clinic operations, even more so than a medical school. Usually, in a medical school, they work in a hospital. Here, we have the entire enterprise.

Question: The school’s level of self support is now about 75 percent. When the school was set up, the announced target was total self-support. Is that still the case?

Answer: It will take a long time to get totally self-supporting because we are a new school. Most schools that have a large and self-supporting income have an alumni base. We’re not there yet. Once we get up there, I think we can gradually increase the amount. But it’s going to take us a while.

If we tried to do that right now, we would basically increase our tuition out of the marketplace.

Question: Do you have to act as chief marketing officer in setting price?

Answer: Oh, yes. There are still a lot of students that want to go to dental school. We had 2,300 applicants for 80 spots last year. We have plenty to choose from.

But at the same time, we don’t want to make it so expensive that our students can’t pay back their loans when they get out. That’s my worry. So I try to balance that, what they can pay and what we need as a school to continue.

Question: How do you think the school is doing now?

Answer; I think we are going great. Our graduates are our best marketing tools because they are doing very well right now. Over half of our students go into graduate programs. That’s very difficult, to get into graduate programs. We have program directors at other places tell us that our students are very well prepared. The community is accepting of us. We’re involved with organized dentistry.

Question: What’s on the to-do list?

Answer: We want to build more graduate programs. We have an orthodontic, a pediatric dentistry and a general practice residency program.

One of the things that happens when students go off to graduate school (elsewhere) is that they generally stay there. We want our students, our graduates, to stay within state instead of going to California or somewhere because we don’t have a program here.

Quite honestly, dental schools don’t make money on their undergraduate programs. They make it on the graduate programs. So on predoctoral clinics, we just want to break even. That’s another reason I want graduate programs.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

ad-high_impact_4
Business
Technology reshapes the pawn shop industry
Devin Battersby attaches a black-colored device to the back of her iPhone and snaps several of the inside and outside of a Louis Vuitton wallet. The device, installed with artificial intelligence capabilities, analyzes the images using a patented microscopic technology. Within a few minutes, Battersby receives an answer on her app. The designer item is authentic.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Nevada for one year
Exhale Nevada CEO Pete Findley talks about the one year anniversary of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Young adults aren't saving for retirement
Financial advisors talk about saving trends among young adults. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump’s tariffs could raise costs for real estate developers, analysts say
President Donald Trump made his fortune in real estate, but by slapping tariffs on imports from close allies, developers in Las Vegas and other cities could get hit hard.
Las Vegas business and tariffs
Barry Yost, co-owner of Precision Tube Laser, LLC, places a metal pipe into the TruLaser Tube 5000 laser cutting machine on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Nevada Film Office Connects Businesses To Producers
The director of the Nevada Film Office discusses its revamped locations database and how it will affect local businesses. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Opendoor isn't the typical house flipping company
Unlike most house flippers, the company aims to make money from transaction costs rather than from selling homes for more than their purchase price.
The Venetian gondoliers sing Italian songs
Gondolier Marciano sings a the classic Italian song "Volare" as he leads guests through the canals of The Venetian in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Building In Logandale
Texas homebuilder D.R. Horton bought 43 lots in rural Logandale. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter announces plans to retire
Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the LVCVA, on Tuesday confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that he is preparing to retire. Richard N. Velotta/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Cousins Maine Lobster to open inside 2 Las Vegas Smith’s stores
Cousins Maine Lobster food truck company will open inside Las Vegas’ two newest Smith’s at Skye Canyon Park Drive and U.S. Highway 95, and at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive. Cousins currently sells outside some Las Vegas Smith’s stores and at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices to continue to rise, expert says
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, gives homebuyers a pulse on the Las Vegas housing market. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NV Energy announces clean energy investment
The company is planning to add six solar projects in Nevada, along with the state's first major battery energy storage capacity. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
3 Mario Batali restaurants on Las Vegas Strip to close
Days after new sexual misconduct allegations were made against celebrity chef Mario Batali, his company announced Friday that it will close its three Las Vegas restaurants July 27. Employees of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, all located in The Venetian and Palazzo resorts, were informed of the decision Friday morning. Bastianich is scheduled to visit the restaurants Friday to speak to employees about the next two months of operation as well as how the company plans to help them transition to new positions.
Nevada has its first cybersecurity apprenticeship program
The Learning Center education company in Las Vegas has launched the first apprenticeship program for cybersecurity in Nevada. It was approved by the State Apprenticeship Council on May 15. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas union members voting to authorize the right to strike
Thousands of Las Vegas union members voting Tuesday morning to authorize the right to strike. A “yes” vote would give the union negotiating committee the power to call a strike anytime after June 1 at the resorts that fail to reach an agreement. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Small businesses struggle to find qualified candidates
A 2018 survey found that over two-thirds of small businesses in Nevada find it somewhat to very difficult to recruit qualified candidates. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Nevada secretary of state website offers little protection against fraudulent business filings
Property developer Andy Pham tells how control of his business was easily seized by another person using the secretary of state website.
Caesars may be going solo in its marijuana policy
Several Southern Nevada casino companies aren’t following Caesars Entertainment’s lead on marijuana testing.
How much is the Lucky Dragon worth?
Less than a year-and-a-half after it opened, the Lucky Dragon was in bankruptcy.
Gyms and discount stores take over empty retail spaces
Grocery stores used to draw people to shopping centers. But many large retail spaces have been vacant since 2008. Discount stores like goodwill and gyms like EOS Fitness are filling those empty spaces, and helping to draw shoppers back in. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Funding source of Las Vegas stadium for the Raiders is sound, expert says
The stadium is funded in part by $750 million of room taxes, the biggest such tax subsidy ever for a professional sports stadium. Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute at UNLV, says that is a good use of public funds. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas needs light rail, expert says
Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute said he is afraid of a "congestion mobility crisis." Las Vegas needs a light rail system, he said, to accommodate the city's growing number of attractions. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three takeaways from Wynn Resorts' Earnings Call
Matt Maddox came out swinging in his first earnings conference call as Wynn Resorts chief executive officer, boasting of record Las Vegas quarterly revenues and applicants lining up for work.
Star Wars VR Comes to Las Vegas
Sneak peak at the new "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" VR experience at the Grand Canal Shoppes.
Elaine Wynn continues her fight to change Wynn Resorts board
Elaine Wynn, the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts Ltd., is seeking to kick a friend of her ex-husband Steve Wynn off the company’s board of directors. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zillow is getting into house flipping in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Review-Journal real estate reporter Eli Segall says flipping houses has waned in popularity after the housing bubble burst.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like