Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, and San Antonio all have medical schools. Houston has two, not counting one in nearby Galveston. El Paso has a medical school. College Station has a medical school. All of those are good and necessary, and all have diversified and energized their local economies and dramatically raised the quality of health care in their communities.
Some 1.7 million people now live in the five counties of greater Austin. But well more than a century since the state established its first such school in Galveston, our region remains without a major medical school, one of the basic building blocks of a well-rounded city and a major contributor to regional health care and quality of life. Is it right that the state’s fourth-largest metropolitan area should not have something as basic as a medical research center and teaching hospital? Does Austin really want to remain one of America’s largest metropolitan areas without a major medical school?
Our top-notch nursing and pharmacy schools, our star faculty members in biomedical engineering, chemistry and material sciences, and our extensive research capabilities all make it clear that the University of Texas at Austin is ready for a medical school.
Our top-notch nursing and pharmacy schools, our star faculty members in biomedical engineering, chemistry and material sciences, and our extensive research capabilities all make it clear that the University of Texas at Austin is ready for a medical school. For more than six years, my administration has been advancing plans to develop one, and with sustained leadership from Sen. Kirk Watson, we stand closer than ever. On Nov. 6, Travis County voters will decide whether to authorize the county’s health care district, Central Health, to raise funding with implications for the medical school. UT-Austin can’t comment directly on Proposition 1, but UT can and should address misinformation and false assumptions currently being repeated in the media about the initiative.
The first misperception is that UT-Austin has no “skin in the game” and is simply sitting back and waiting for others to pay for a medical school. To the contrary, the UT Board of Regents has committed $290 million over the next 10 years for the establishment of medical education at UT-Austin, and the campus itself is budgeting a multimillion-dollar investment. But a medical school is not just classrooms and faculty. It requires a teaching hospital. The Seton Healthcare Family has committed $250 million for this purpose, moving us well along toward the goal, and is funding and supporting the 213 medical residents in 13 specialties that are currently in Austin. We hope St. David’s will be an important part of it as well.
The second myth is that UT ought to be able to build a medical school on its own because it’s rich. Each year after various organizations publish their lists of largest university endowments, putting “University of Texas” in the top two or three, UT-Austin must correct the record. The endowment in question goes to 13 schools within the University of Texas System as well as the UT System administration. UT is by no measure rich. To the contrary, state support has been in decline for years, and in fact UT is near the bottom of its national peer group in terms of public support. As mentioned above, we have set aside funding for core education, but we will not be able to build a medical school without community support.
The third misperception is that a medical school would primarily benefit UT-Austin. If that were the case, it seems unlikely that Sen. Kirk Watson, a Baylor alumnus with no formal connection to UT, would have become the initiative’s most passionate advocate. He is spearheading this effort because he understands the immense benefit it would have for the entire region. It will expand access to excellent primary and specialty care for you and your family right here in Austin, and it will expand the health care workforce that will care for all of us, whether insured or uninsured. It also will stimulate our economy on an ongoing basis. Senator Watson and I both know that the ripple effect of a UT medical school will be transformational for the region.
The economic vitality and security of our state depend on the health of its children, parents and families. A medical school will expand the health care infrastructure for Central Texas, resulting in healthier students in our classrooms and a healthier, more productive work force for our community.
Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes Board of Directors supports the creation of a UT-Austin medical school and encourages Travis County alumni to support Central Health Proposition 1.
This article was originally published by the Austin American-Statesman.
Photo by rosemary via Flickr Creative Commons.