Tuesday, December 18News That Matters

New medical school at UH to offer 'value-added' campus experience, Renu Khator says


The University of Houston will build its medical school on campus, regents decided Thursday, a location pivotal to the role it plans to serve in the Third Ward.

The Board of Regents selected a 43-acre tract of undeveloped property just southeast of the campus proper over a building in the Texas Medical Center for the planned college, which would be the first new medical school in Houston in nearly half a century.

“We’re thinking ahead,” said Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the UH regents. “We want to have a footprint in the Texas Medical Center, but we feel very good about being here on campus, with the infrastructure and the ability to grow for years to come.”

After a closed session, the board approved the site without discussion.

The selection of the site is the latest step in UH’s journey to create a medical school, a longtime dream. Plans call for it to focus on training primary-care doctors, half of them minorities, to practice in underserved areas, a huge need in Houston and the state.

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, such as those in the Third Ward, continue to be classified as medically underserved.

Dr. Stephen Spann, the founding dean of the proposed UH school, has said disparities are so bad in some of those communities that their health problems are “similar to those of Third World countries.”

UH officials in December plan to submit an application for accreditation from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, an important hurdle. The school was approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

UH is targeting fall 2022 for the building’s opening, two years after it hopes the liaison committee allows the medical school to open. Until the new building is constructed, students would take classes in an existing UH health sciences building, UH officials have said.

UH President Renu Khator said after the vote that putting the school on campus “makes sense” given the school’s mission to serve the community and plans to integrate with existing scientific and medically related programs on campus.

“This is the only medical school in Houston school that’s part of a comprehensive university system,” Khator said. “We want to make it a value-added experience for not just the medical students but everyone else as well.”

The other medical schools in Houston are Baylor College of Medicine, a freestanding private school, and McGovern Medical School, which is part of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. McGovern was the last to open in 1972.

UH can now begin negotiating and executing contracts for the school’s design and construction. Preliminary plans call for a 150,000-square-foot, four-story building that will cost an estimated $65 million.

The university will pay for the building with institutional capital funds earmarked for construction projects, UH officials said.

It will request $40 million from the Texas Legislature over 10 years, including $20 million in the 2019 session.

UH officials are still determining the exact location on the tract of land, which is next to the MacGregor Park/Martin Luther King Jr. METRO rail station. A spokesman said it will be at least a few hundred feet north of the intersection at Old Spanish Trail and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Khator emphasized that UH still plans a footprint in the medical center. She said UH will renovate a building it owns there on Moursund Street at Braeswood Boulevard — the site not chosen for the medical school — and utilize it for educational and research programs.

The board also approved the establishment of tuition and fees for the doctor of medicine degree at $23,755. They said that’s on par with such degrees at existing Texas public universities and less than half the $55,000 to be charged at Sam Houston State University’s planned osteopathic medical school. Sam Houston officials will hold ground-breaking ceremonies on its facility in Conroe Friday.

Full tuition and fees for the inaugural class will be funded by an anonymous $3 million donation, which was announced in July. A second gift, from the John M. O’Quinn Foundation, will cover full tuition and fees for a third of the second class.

Enrollment is initially expected to be 30 students and eventually grow to 120 students per class.

todd.ackerman@chron.com

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