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UNLV Med School Receives All-Important Accreditation

Rendering of the UNLV medical school building.

In just five years, UNLV has earned full medical school accreditation. 

It comes as the new medical school building is going up in downtown Las Vegas. 

With the accreditation and the new school, could it mean that doctor shortage in southern Nevada is going to soon be a thing of the past? 

Doctor Marc J. Kahn is Dean of UNLV’s School of Medicine. He explained that getting accreditation is a multi-step program that starts when a school gets its first class of students.

When UNLV started its process, six other schools also began the application program. Now, only UNLV and one other school have successfully received accreditation.

Kahn said the most difficult part of getting to this point started before he was even hired as dean.

“I think that the hardest part really occurred before I got here and that really occurred with our founding dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson and that was just getting the community, the Legislature, the board of regents etc., to agree that we needed a medical school here in Southern Nevada,” he said.

Getting a fully accreditated medical school is really the first step to addressing Nevada's health care provider shortage, Kahn said.

The next step is getting more residency and fellowship programs. Usually, doctors stay where they do their residency, but Nevada only has 400 residency and fellowship programs compared to New York, which has 19,000.

“In part, these spots were allocated based on population and the recent population explosion in Nevada has unfortunately not been met by additional positions for residents and fellows,” Dr. Kahn explained.

In addition, Nevada doesn't have resident programs for specialties like dermatology, ophthalmology and anesthesiology, Kahn said.

“I certainly hope that a number of our students stay here for the residencies in the state. I know some will leave, in some part, because we don’t have residency positions but what I really hope is that they come back to practice.”

Kahn said most graduate medical programs are funded through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but the number of programs was capped in the 90s.

However, in the CARES Act, which passed last year to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a provision that expands residency programs.

Kahn said he and others are working with Nevada lawmakers to make sure the state gets some of those expanded programs.

“Now that the medical school is fully accredited, we need to continually work to expand graduate medical education opportunities for our state,” he said.

Medical school programs around the country have seen a bump in interest and enrollment because of the pandemic. Some people are calling it the 'Fauci Effect,' after the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Kah said UNLV's medical school is no different.

“I think what the pandemic has done is it has shown the importance of the health care system and the importance of careers in health care,” he said.

In fact, UNLV has started a joint M.D. and masters of public health program to train doctors in public health. Kahn believes there will be more interest in this field, and UNLV will have the program ready to go.

The medical school has gone forward with classes during the pandemic. Students in their first and second years have been doing hybrid learning, and students in their third and fourth years have been working with patients.

“We think it’s important that students see a pandemic real-time as they learn medicine,” Kahn said.

Those fourth-year students will be graduating in May, but in a few weeks, they will be matched with the residency programs in what is known as Match Day.

Kahn explained that students apply for and interview for residency programs then rank the programs they want to go to. On the other side, residency programs rank the students they want in their program. A computer, using a sophisticated algorithm, matches the student to the program. 

Dr. Kahn says it is his favorite day of the year. 

Dr. Marc J. Kahn, Dean, UNLV’s School of Medicine

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Kristen Kidman is the senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.