University of Houston System regents on Thursday unanimously voted to create a medical school, a long-time dream aimed at increasing the supply of primary-care doctors for Texas' most underserved areas.
Under a proposal that must be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and a national accrediting body, UH would begin enrolling its first class of medical students in fall 2020, and reach a full complement of 480 by 2027. It would ask the Texas Legislature for $40 million over 10 years to cover some of its expenses.
"There is a tremendous need in the community here in Houston, in inner cities and in rural areas," said UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator, who called the vote "a historic day" for UH. "Our model will help us do that while preparing primary care physicians who are trained to practice in community-based clinics."
Texas ranks 47th out of 50 states in the ratio of primary care doctors per person and the shortage is expected to get worse. Despite recent pushes to increase the pipeline of doctors in Texas' rural and urban areas, a significant number of counties and communities, many in the Houston area, continue to be classified as medically underserved.I can only assume that the UH System regents sense that past political opposition to UH gaining a medical school has diminished, since I doubt they'd vote to approve its creation (and risk the embarrassment that would result if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected it) otherwise. At least one former skeptic - State Representative Garnet Coleman - seems to be on board, and the proposed medical school also has the (rather critical) support of the Texas Medical Center.
At Thursday's meeting, seven months after state lawmakers asked UH to evaluate the need for a medical school, regents approved four actions: establishing a college of medicine; applying to the state's higher education coordinating board for approval; initiating the accreditation process; and finalizing a partnership for new residency programs where newly minted doctors will train in primary care and other "needed" specialties, such as psychiatry and general surgery.
The university has a letter of intent with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) Gulf Coast Division to create eight new residency programs and more than 100 first-year slots by 2020.
Board Chairman Tilman Fertitta said the board would "fight on" in pursuit of the college and pledged to work with state lawmakers to "make this happen." Stephen Spann, the medical school's planning dean, said conversations with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and legislators have been "very positive."
Approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is necessary for new degree programs, not individual colleges. Raymund Paredes, the agency's leader, was at Thursday's regent committee meeting where the proposal was presented but left before the vote. A spokeswoman later said Paredes would not speculate on how the agency would receive the plan.
The price tag for the new school is expected to exceed $272 million over 13 years. In addition to the state funding, UH's plan also calls for $40 million in philanthropic gifts over 10 years, tuition revenue to cover $51 million and other revenue to cover remaining costs.The timeline, as it currently stands, is for the University of Houston to submit an application to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in February of 2018 for a Doctor of Medicine degree program, and, if approval is granted, to submit an application to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education for accreditation the following August.
Should all this fall into place, it would obviously be a huge step forward for UH. Stay tuned.
The Texas Tribune has more.