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Regents’ OK is ‘huge step’ toward UNLV getting medical school

The fate of UNLV’s proposed medical school will now rest in the hands of Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature.

The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents approved a biennial budget request for about $843 million in 2016 and $888.9 million in 2017 for its seven schools. Within that budget is a $45 million request in state funding to establish UNLV’s medical school and expand the program at University of Nevada-Reno.

The budget will be sent to Sandoval on Sept. 1. While the budget request must await approval by Sandoval and the Legislature, Regent James Dean Leavitt called the moment historic.

“This is the most significant event,” said Leavitt, who chaired the Health Sciences Committee that developed the plan. “It will do more for the economy of Southern Nevada and do more in creating and enhancing the school of medicine.”

The plan for medical school expansion was the result of a nearly yearlong collaboration between regents and officials at UNR and UNLV to create a medical school and address a shortage of physicians in Nevada. The approval was the first major hurdle for UNLV in getting its medical school.

“The budget reflects our needs, and the largest single item is the medical school,” UNLV acting President Don Snyder said. “That’s not lost on me. It’s such an important part for UNR and Southern Nevada. The budget approval today was a huge step.”

Within the medical school plan, UNLV is projected to require $26.7 million split between two years to establish its medical school. The money would primarily be used to hire physicians, scientists, and support staff to the UNLV program and help it become accredited. UNLV would then seek donations from philanthropists to provide $100 million to build the building.

UNR is requesting an additional $8 million over the next two years to establish clinical opportunities in Reno for third- and fourth-year students.

The growth is necessary to make room for the additional UNLV students who will need clinical opportunities to earn their degrees.

The plan also includes $9.9 million to expand graduate medical school opportunities in Nevada.

“The message is (the governor and Legislature) wanted to see leadership from medical educators from this area,” Chancellor Dan Klaich said. “And I think we have the ability to provide that and work toward a positive solution.”

The board welcomed the medical school proposal with enthusiasm. Regent Jack Lund Schofield called the moment miraculous because of the collaboration between UNR and UNLV. Meanwhile, Regent Michael Wixom said it’s important to stay focused on the future benefits of the program.

“We need to remember we’re planning for future … and not just the immediate future,” Wixom said. “By conveying that message I think we can be successful.”

Still, there remains plenty of preliminary work. The state must still find funding for the program, a concern that all board members recognize. Regent Mark Doubrava suggested that the board develop a contingency plan if the state can’t provide all $45 million.

“We need to be able to say what needs to be done right now and what can be done in the next biennial session,” Doubrava said.

Yet with the statewide collaboration to make the medical school a reality, the board remains hopeful that the governor will find room in his budget for medical school expansion.

“This is a historic day,” Leavitt said. “We should be dancing in the streets.”