Up to four new Texas medical schools could help alleviate shortage of health professionals
If all the stars align, Texas could soon have new medical schools in various stages of development at four public universities.
The University of Texas System is currently the only higher education system in the country that is developing two medical schools at the same time – at The University of Texas at Austin and the newly created University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). A third public university – Sam Houston State University – which is already planning to beef up its health care program – is studying the possibility of opening a medical school in Montgomery County. And, University of Houston System Chancellor Renu Khator in her annual Fall Address referenced a primary care, community-based medical school for the UH System as “down the road.”
UT-Austin is already in the construction phase of its Dell Medical School, so named following a $50 million philanthropic contribution from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The first phase of the medical complex will include an education and administration building, a research building, a medical office building and the addition of a parking garage. In an update this week, UT officials said that construction is on schedule and the first group of students is expected to be welcomed in July 2016. The school has already cleared its first accreditation hurdle, the next of which will be Preliminary Accreditation approval that will allow the school to begin recruiting students. If accredited, the Dell Medical School plans class sizes of 50 students for each of its first four years of operation.
The UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine joins the Dell Medical School at UT-Austin as being the first UT System medical schools built on academic campuses. The System’s other four medical schools are part of health science center campuses. UTRGV’s Medical School is the offshoot of the merging of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville. That medical school will be supported in part by the Regional Academic Health Center’s (which will become part of the medical school) approximately $15.8 million in funding per year, a commitment of $10 million per year by the UT System Board of Regents and local city and county commitments totaling $15 million.
Sam Houston State University (SHSU) may find a few speed bumps on its road to building a medical school just north of The Woodlands. First, the university would need approval from both the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and regents of the state university system. And, then there’s the always difficult task of securing funding for what would be a high-dollar project.
SHSU officials told The Houston Chronicle that the demand for health care services and health care workers in that region of the state, and particularly the rural areas, have increased exponentially with the region’s population growth. That growing demand and short supply equation has SHSU officials confident that the medical school proposal will earn the approval of the THECB and regents in the next few months. The university and a Houston developer are already in preliminary talks. If there are no major setbacks, SHSU could open its medical school in 2018.
At the University of Houston System, leaders are planning a study to see what would be necessary to bring a medical school to the UH campus. Plans would be to train primary care physicians, where one of the largest deficits in health care professionals in the state exists. UH is looking at the possibility of opening a medical school by 2020.
Texas’ population is growing by leaps and bounds. That population explosion is putting a strain on the provision of health care and thus residents of many areas of the state are medically underserved. The number of new health care professionals that four new medical schools could provide would certainly be welcomed statewide.