UNLV promotes medical school dean to jump-start new program

UNLV has promoted the head of its planned medical school in hopes that the move will boost ongoing efforts to develop the nascent program.

Dr. Barbara Atkinson, who was appointed as planning dean for Southern Nevada’s first public medical school in May 2014, was promoted Tuesday by university administrators to serve as the program’s founding dean. The new job comes with a 3 percent pay raise, raising her annual salary to $506,000 — matching that of Dean Thomas L. Schwenk at the University of Nevada, Reno, medical school.

Atkinson’s responsibilities won’t change under the new title, but the switch implies that she’ll be there longer than the program’s initial development phase.

“It shows a level of stability and progress,” she said. “I think it shows that people are going to keep their commitment to innovation and excellence as we move forward.”

University administrators and officials with the Nevada System of Higher Education touted Atkinson’s work to build the medical school, which is scheduled to begin classes in 2017. In her 18 months on the job, she has drafted the school’s curriculum and hired 19 instructors while developing a proposal to obtain accreditation. She has also been credited for helping raise $13.5 million in two months to fund 135 scholarships for future medical school students, including the program’s entire first class.

“Barbara has worked tirelessly with academic and health care leaders across the state to craft a vision for the school that I truly believe will help shape the future of health care in Southern Nevada,” UNLV President Len Jessup said in a prepared statement. “Barbara’s passion for this community combined with her experience at all levels of health care and keen sense for what it takes to build a successful medical school is crucial to our continued momentum.”

Education leaders hope Atkinson will continue raising much-needed donations for the medical school, which requires at least $80 million more in private fundraising for a new building. State lawmakers this spring allotted $27 million in startup money to pay for faculty salaries.

“She’s worked well with philanthropists, legislators and people in the medical community,” said Mark Doubrava, a Las Vegas-based physician who sits on NSHE’s Board of Regents and serves as vice-chair of its Health Sciences System Committee. “Now that her title is changing, I think that it just informs everyone else participating that she will be around as she implements her vision. Now they’ll know that won’t change hands at a critical time.”

Atkinson was a medical school administrator at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, where she spearheaded the launch of a new campus in Salina, Kan., to alleviate a physician shortage in the region. She also helped expand the school’s Wichita campus from a two-year to a full, four-year program. She ended her short-lived retirement from that university in 2014 to help launch UNLV’s medical school.

“She very much enjoys the position, and I think this creates a little bit of excitement and buzz,” said Regent James Dean Leavitt, who chairs the Health Sciences System Committee. “It sort of demonstrates her commitment to the university and the university’s commitment to her.”

Contact Ana Ley at aley@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512. Find her on Twitter @la__ley

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