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UNLV Med School Promise: Billions To Economy, Vastly Improved Medical Care


Nevada ranks near the bottom in terms of access to medical care. The number of doctors per resident is far below national averages.

But a big push to turn that around will be the newly accredited UNLV School of Medicine, which opens with its first class of 60 students in July.

Barbara Atkinson, dean of the new medical school, said that after some years, the hopes are to top that number out at 180 students.

Nevada lawmakers provided $27 million two years ago to get the school up and running. Governor Brian Sandoval wants to add another $53 million to that total. The request is in his current budget.

Most of that money has been used to hire faculty, Atkinson said.

The school will be housed temporarily downtown because the university still needs to raise $100 million in donations to build a medical school building.

Atkinson is adept at fundraising, though. The first 60 students in the school will pay no tuition. That means the total of their more than $100,000 in debt will be covered by a fundraising effort Atkinson spearheaded.

With big help from the Engelstad Family Foundation -- which is paying tuition for 26 students for each of the next four years -- she raised $13.5 million in just 60 days in 2015.

The new school will go a long way toward bringing doctors to Nevada, said Mark Doubrava, a member of the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Doubrava, a physician, graduated from UNLV then went to the state's medical school at the University of Nevada-Reno.

Typically, medical school students and medical residents stay in the city they went to school or did their residencies, he said, because they establish roots there.

That was a problem at UNR, he added, because students would take two years of classes in Reno, then move to Las Vegas to complete their four-year program by training at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. UMC is the only public hospital in the state.

By moving around like that, Doubrava added, students didn't establish roots. So when they finished, they'd be more likely to move to another city than stay in Nevada.

Meanwhile, the city of Las Vegas is expecting a big redevelopment spurt in the city's urban core from the medical school. Betsy Fretwell, city manager, said by 2020--just three years from now -- the school will have a $600 million impact on the economy; will result in more than 4,000 new jobs; and bring in an addition $30 million in tax revenue.

In 13 years, those numbers are projected to quadruple.

Betsy Fretwell, city manager, City of Las Vegas; Mark Doubrava, M.D., NSHE Board of Regents; Barbara Atkinson, dean, UNLV School of Medicine

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.