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Let’s establish a UNLV medical school the right way

UNLV needs an allopathic, M.D.-granting medical school. The economic effects and benefits to the health of our community are compelling. So much is riding on a UNLV medical school that we need to take a breath, step back, and make sure we do this right — not just right away.

According to Brookings Mountain West, Las Vegas — with more than 2 million residents — is by far the largest U.S. metropolitan area lacking an allopathic medical school. Reports show Las Vegas maintained the smallest share of health services jobs of any top 100 metropolitan-area economy. Just 7 percent of the region’s workforce is employed in health services, while the average for the top 100 metros exceeds 10 percent. Investing in a UNLV medical school will expand our health care sector, create significant jobs and generate new taxes to support the entire state.

In fact, in a recent report commissioned by The Lincy Institute at UNLV, the consulting firm Tripp-Umbach made a strong economic case for a UNLV-based and fully independent M.D.-granting medical school in Las Vegas. The study found that such a school would add more than $1.1 billion per year in gross metropolitan product and 8,000 new jobs. The economic multiplier from the UNLV medical school would generate sufficient new taxes for Nevada that it could exceed the school’s state-provided operating funds by 2030.

Tripp-Umbach also proposes a concurrent effort to greatly expand statewide graduate medical education and residency programs, especially in Las Vegas, and I wholeheartedly agree. This would help bring medical professionals to our community and retain them, which is essential to the success of health care in our region.

Tripp-Umbach found a new UNLV medical school building would cost $75 million to $80 million, based on similar-sized schools in Orlando, Fla. ($68 million) and Roanoke, Va. ($58 million). Robert Lang, executive director of The Lincy Institute, recently asserted such resources could be generated with very little direct state support through use of local bonding, state and federal tax credits and philanthropic contributions. In a city our size, this is not just doable — it’s a “must do.”

How we get it done is important. With the establishment of a UNLV medical school, the state will work toward two full medical schools — one in Las Vegas, one in Reno. At first, the two medical schools will be linked by a common accreditation, which will split into two accreditations by the next decade at a date yet to be determined. And that date needs to be set now, with plans executed accordingly.

We applaud efforts by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents to expedite the process by considering proactive steps, such as lifting a 20-year ban on new state medical schools dating from 2005 and affirming a recent memorandum of understanding signed by UNLV and UNR to jointly operate a medical school in Las Vegas.

We urge Chancellor Dan Klaich and the regents to open up a process that will engage a broad set of relevant Southern Nevada stakeholders. It is essential all stakeholders in our metropolitan region be at the table, including hospitals and providers, the business community and higher education, to bring a wide perspective to creating a medical school structured to best serve the needs of our region. This needs to be an open and transparent process, with myriad points of view at the table.

Two new leaders will be essential to this effort. The first is the new president at UNLV. Outgoing President Neal Smatresk was a great leader at UNLV because he understood the value of community partnership. The next UNLV president needs to show a similar commitment to external stakeholder engagement and must be fully committed to establishing the UNLV medical school.

The other key leader needed is an executive dean who can champion the development of the UNLV medical school. We need someone with proven experience in establishing a medical school, who can manage this complex project on a daily basis, engage community stakeholders and work with the current dean of the UNR medical school on a productive UNLV-UNR partnership.

The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce has a record of supporting national searches for education leadership positions in the region. Las Vegas deserves the best leadership talent, including a highly qualified chief executive at UNLV. The new executive dean of the state’s medical expansion is no exception. We see the management of this project as a full-time, all-consuming job. Nevada needs a leader who has helped establish a medical school. Given that a dozen M.D.-granting medical schools have been started in the past decade, there is a pool of specific expert talent that can be tapped.

And finally, we need to set now a date certain for the transfer of the UNLV medical school from an affiliation with UNR to a fully independent medical school.

We encourage the Board of Regents, before moving full speed ahead at its meeting Thursday, to work with the Southern Nevada community of stakeholders to develop the right plan of action for this essential and all-important UNLV medical school.

Kristin McMillan is president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

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