Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2015

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Regent’s proposal for new medical school should be taken seriously

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University Regent Mark Doubrava wants a discussion about opening a medical school at UNLV. That’s worth discussing, but Doubrava, a medical doctor who graduated from the University of Nevada School of Medicine, hasn’t been met with a warm reception.

That’s because taking the idea to fruition would mean breaking up the statewide medical school, which is based in Reno, and either creating two schools or moving the current one south.

The medical school has never been an easy topic to discuss. When it was created in 1969, there was significant disagreement over where it would be based; raising the issue now continues to give Nevada System of Higher Education officials heartburn.

So far, all we have heard Doubrava’s idea get is lip service.

Yes, yes, of course they’ll have a discussion, but there are other priorities to deal with, you see? And let’s face it, now is a terrible time to ask the Legislature for money. Remember, it’s a statewide medical school. Oh, and don’t worry about the school’s minute presence in Southern Nevada; the dean has plans for a $220 million building in Las Vegas. (Never mind that buildings have been promised before but never delivered.)

So, now then, there’s really no reason to suggest a new school, is there?

There is plenty of reason to back Doubrava’s idea. Given the need, we can’t understand why university officials haven’t taken up this discussion already.

Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in the nation without an allopathic medical school, one that grants M.D. degrees. It’s also the largest metropolitan area without a public medical school within a two-hour car ride.

The proximity is important. By providing training, expertise and research, public medical schools can help increase the quality and quantity of care. That would help stem the tide of Southern Nevadans who spend great sums to travel to Los Angeles or Phoenix for medical care.

It’s not just patients who have to travel; students start in Reno for two years of training in the school’s lecture halls and laboratories. (UNR’s website boasts that the medical school is one of the campus’ “defining landmarks.”) Then it’s on to two years of clinical work, and at least part of their time will be spent in Las Vegas, where students receive the full range of medical experience that a large metropolitan area offers. (When they’re here, they’ll spend time in the school’s ad hoc Las Vegas facilities and, in the dean’s words, their “jerry-rigged” classrooms and meeting space.)

The back-and-forth is an imposition on the students, adding extra costs and hassle. It also is a missed opportunity for Southern Nevada, which doesn’t see the benefits of what a public medical school could offer, including research and economic development.

A 2011 report by the Brookings Institution and SRI International, which serves as the background for the state’s economic development plan, says Southern Nevada, which makes up 75 percent of the state’s population, doesn’t have enough health care.

“The current levels of education and research activity have been insufficient for building a strong and vibrant medical and health cluster,” the report said.

It adds that Southern Nevada is “undeniably placed at a disadvantage” to other Western cities of similar size, including Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Tucson, all of which have “highly research-oriented medical schools.”

We know this is uncomfortable for state leaders who don’t want to upset things as they are, but there’s a real problem that needs to be addressed and a medical school could be a big part of the solution.

It’s time for an adult conversation with state leaders, particularly those of the university system: The status quo isn’t good enough. Engage in discussions like the one Doubrava has offered and find solutions. If you don’t like his idea, offer something better. But until you do, quit pooh-poohing it, and if you don’t want to be involved, at least have the decency to get out of the way.

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