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The Next Step For UNLV's School of Medicine


UNLV Rendering

A rendering shows the plans for the UNLV school of medicine campus. 

The campaign to raise $6 million in scholarships for the first class of students at UNLV’s medical school was supposed to last the rest of the year.

It’s now then end of June, and the campaign is over.

School officials say the campaign raised twice its goal in a little more than two months.

The single biggest donation came from the Engelstad Family Foundation which gave the school $10 million.

“I think they want good doctors in Nevada,” school dean Barbara Atkinson said of the donation.

The first 60 students have full four-year scholarships. After that, 25 students in the next three classes will have scholarships from the foundation donation.

According to Atkinson, having fully funded scholarships allows the school to get a better crop of students.

“What it impacts is how good the students we can expect are,” the dean explained. “We’ll be able to pick the ones we want.”

While the school is expecting applications from around the country, Atkinson said the focus will be on Nevada students.

“We’re going to favor Nevada residents first,” she said, “We’re just going to look for the best. We’re going to look for personal characteristics that we think are going to make the very best doctors.”

Support comes from

Beyond Nevada residents, the acceptance committee will be looking for students with ties to the state, whether that is living here for a time or having family in the area.

However, because of accreditation rules, the school cannot recruit any of those students, and in fact, must wait a whole year before they can talk to students.

The school has already started to lay out its curriculum and the developers are looking to make it stand out from a crowded field.

“We think students are going to love this curriculum,” Atkinson said.

The program will be a problem-based curriculum with students being trained as emergency medical technicians to start their medical school education. They’ll also work with the Clark County Coroner’s office to conduct autopsies, and instead of working in a hospital in their third year, they’ll work in outpatient practices.

“We think the future is really an outpatient practice and we’ll do that first and do a hospital experience later,” Atkinson explained.

Currently, the school has eight staff members but needs to hire 34, including administration, financial aid, student services and faculty to actually teach students.

Atkinson said that most of the $27 million approved by the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval will be used to hire that staff. She doesn’t believe they will have any problem filling the faculty positions.

“To get top-talent faculty has been easier than I expected because we have people who want to come and build a program that’s new and different and their own,” she said.

Originally, the governor had asked for $8 million for the medical school, far short of what the school said it needed to get off the ground and meet its accreditation deadlines. Atkinson believes the work of the school’s community relation’s board and the support from the whole community helped sway lawmakers.

“We were able to convince them that ‘We’re ready to go. We want to take students next summer/fall,’” she said.

The funding from the state was crucial for accreditation, but it was also important for donors to know that the project was moving forward.

Besides money for faculty and staff, the state handed out $10 million to expand the number of residency spots in the state, which Atkinson said was a “huge step” towards increasing the number of doctors in Nevada.

“They’re most apt to stay and practice where they do their residency just because by then they have a family, they have roots, they’ve been here a while,” she explained.

Atkinson said while the money for faculty, student scholarships and residency slots are in place, the $100 million plus needed to build the actual building has not been secured yet. She envisions a centralized medical and health science complex on 10 acres along Shadow Lane near University Medical Center.

Atkinson has worked at opening or expanding medical schools in other areas, including in Kansas, but she told KNPR’s State of Nevada that she has not seen an outpouring of support like she saw for this school.

“This is just unbelievable,” Atkinson said, “I think this valley just really wants good doctors.”

She believes there is a pent up demand for more medical services in Las Vegas and this medical school will address that need with new doctors. 


Dr. Barbara Atkinson, dean, UNLV School of Medicine

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