Almost two years ago, Barbara Atkinson arrived in Las Vegas charged with getting UNLV’s first medical school off the ground.
It’s been an eventful two years. Just in the first months of this year, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved the structure for the faculty plan; the school started its accreditation procedure; and they are hiring faculty seemingly every week.
So, when will the first class of students follow the faculty?
We’ve asked Dr. Barbara Atkinson here to give us an update. Dr. Atkinson is, of course, the dean of UNLV’s medical school.
How many faculty members have you hired? How many more do you need?
We started July 1 with six. Now, we’re up to 27. We need a lot more. Next year, we’re hiring 40 more and the year after that we’re hoping many of the faculty from the University of Nevada Medical School in Reno, will move over to be part of the UNLV faculty of medicine.
Who have you hired recently?
Recently we hired the two biggest people. The vice dean for clinical affairs, who is Tracy Green and the senior associate dean for clinical research and that’s Parvesh Kumar. There are sort of three pieces to a medical school. There’s the education piece for medical schools and residents and we started hiring those people a year ago. But now, we’re starting in on the clinical practice. We need to set up how we’re going to see patients and what happens is the faculty sees patients with residents and medical students and teaches at the same time that they take care of patients.
There is a debate within the medical school industry about whether to train clinicians or whether to train scientists. In Las Vegas, it is argued that we lack both, is this medical school going to solve that problem?
It is. We are going to do both medical students and then we’re building a research effort, which is where you build the scientist part. But what you do is hire faculty who are really high-level faculty that are interested in teaching. They’re the cutting edge of research in each of their areas. And they’re the ones that impart the scientific knowledge to medical students, to residents, which is the next level above medical students, and then train Ph.D. students who actually can do science.
Last summer, you told us that you had a deadline to submit paperwork by August 1 for accreditation. How did that go?
We made a Dec. 1 deadline. We backed off the deadline a little bit, but we made it. It was reviewed in February by the accrediting body, the Liaison Community for Medical Education and they decided that we were ready to have the site visit. The site visit will actually happen in July.
What are they going to be looking for?
They are going to be looking to make sure that we are ready to take the students we have, everything ready to admit the students, we have everything ready to select the ones we want, we have all the curriculum for the first two years ready, we have the financial plan, the faculty bi-laws, the space, the affiliation agreements with our hospitals. Everything ready to be able to start students not this summer but next summer. July of 2017.
What happens if you don’t get the accreditation?
Then you have to wait a whole year before you can reapply. Then they review your materials again. It would really be about a two-year delay in being able to accept students. But we are making every effort to get that ‘yes’ come October.
You’re talking with University Medical Center about building a campus, but you don’t have one yet. What does the school’s ‘space’ look like now?
We have temporary space that we are building out. It is on the Shadow Lane campus of UNLV, which is right at Charleston Blvd. and Shadow Lane. It’s where the dental school building is. This is the second floor of the dental school and it was shell space. They are actually starting construction now on building that out. The students will be there two days a week, the first-year class and then two days the second-year class. And we’re still trying to work out an agreement with our VA hospital. They would spend two days a week at the VA hospital.
How much money do you need to raise for a medical building? What is the possible timeline for completing it?
We do have to raise money. We made it very clear that we weren’t going to ask the state for buildings. We were just going to ask the state for the educational money. So, it’s philanthropy. We’re talking to some major donors. It’s about $100 million, so if you have a check…
We’ve hired the architects. We think we know where the land will be. We’re still working on an agreement with the county to transfer a beautiful piece of land that is about 10 acres right by the Shadow Lane campus, right by UMC and across from Valley Hospital.
So we do need that big donor and we hope to have them soon.
Your goal is to put more doctors in offices in Las Vegas. When do you think that will come to fruition?
We’re putting more doctors in offices right now as we hire faculty because they see patients to. So just hiring the faculty helps. The first doctors who will actually be practicing who graduated from our medical school are minimum eight years away.
The main thing is the accreditation. Waiting for the big donor to name our school and to begin our building. We’re still working on the curriculum now and particularly we’re working on the third-year curriculum. We have a really innovative curriculum all the way along but the third year is really special. They’re going to be starting out in a practice in an outpatient setting. Most medical students spend their whole year in a hospital and they usually spend it broken up into a month of this and two months of that. And there’s basically six basic clerkships that they take during that year… We’re going to do all that in an outpatient setting.
Dr. Barbara Atkinson, Dean of the Medical School at the University of Nevada Las Vegas
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.