Published Monday, July 17, 2017 | 5:54 p.m.
Updated Monday, July 17, 2017 | 9:46 p.m.
The long-awaited UNLV School of Medicine kicked off Monday with members of the inaugural class honored with stethoscopes at a ceremony.
The 60 students began orientation and will get into their first course Tuesday with emergency response and population studies.
“So many people have worked so hard over the years to get to this day for the start of the first medical school class,” UNLV President Len Jessup told the crowd at the one-hour event. “It’s unbelievable.”
Barbara Atkinson, the school’s dean, was noticeably absent. She is hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
“She really wanted to be here. No one has worked harder than her or was more excited about today, so it was tough for her,” Jessup said. “It would have been nice for her to see everything physically today, but I spoke with her this morning and she is very excited about how far we’ve come.”
Many of the students already have a strong connection with Atkinson.
“I’m very sorry that Atkinson couldn’t have been with us today, because she is the heart and soul of the program,” student Alex Ma said. “You could really feel her presence was missed today.”
Although missed at the ceremony, Jessup assured that Atkinson’s absence would not be a long-term event.
“She’s making really good progress and now she’s up and moving around, so it’s only a matter of time for her physical therapy for however long that takes,” he said.
The 60 students for the first class were chosen from more than 900 applicants. There are 31 women and 29 men, all Nevada residents. Each has a scholarship worth $25,000 per year for four years.
“That was intentional because we wanted to increase the chances of them staying after to be doctors and serve the community,” Jessup said. “We knew having students from Nevada, or with strong Nevada ties would help us to do that.”
Seventeen of those students are the first to attend college in their families. Two of the students are veterans, and two students went to high school in rural Nevada. The class is made up of 20 percent from groups deemed underrepresented in the medical field.
“We’ll be going out into the community, into some of the medically underinsured areas and really getting to know the neighborhoods,” Ma said. “We’ll see what their medical needs are and will report it back to the school to see if there’s any chance of us making an impact to the community.”
Ma, who previously studied media and filmmaking, said he was both excited and nervous to be part of the first School of Medicine class.
“I want to do the best that I can and put my best foot forward because we’re establishing the culture for the program,” he said. “They told us, none of you are here by mistake and that really struck me. I always thought that I came here by accident, but the fact there was some much consideration involved and so much thought in the process, it really means a lot.”
The main building of UNLV School of Medicine, planned for West Charleston Boulevard across from UMC, is still a few years off. Jessup said the school is in the early design phase, with about $50 million raised so far.
“The goal is $100-$125 million in place for the first phase,” he said. “It all depends on the donors (to how fast UNLV reaches their goal).”
Jessup believes the school could reach its fundraising goal as quickly as the end of the year.
The medical school addition will serve as a critical step to UNLV’s goal of achieving Tier 1 university status, Jessup said.
“You almost can’t get to the Tier 1 status without having a medical school,” he said. “It’s very important to the university.”