Prominent leaders in health care and business acknowledge the need for a new college of medicine in Houston that focuses on producing primary care physicians, and express confidence in the University of Houston’s plan that leverages existing clinical, academic and research programs to create it.
In a video released by the University, Bill McKeon, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Medical Center, called a primary care-focused medical school “essential” to the health of the city.
“I am a huge supporter of this for many reasons,” said McKeon. “I represent 60 institutions and many of them are leaders of medical schools as well as hospitals. They see this as extremely complementary to the existing hospitals and medical schools.”
Texas faces a critical primary care physician shortage and ranks 47th out of 50 states in primary care physician-to-population ratio. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the state will need to add another 6,400, a 32 percent increase, by 2030.
The population of Houston has tripled since the last medical school was established in the city in 1972. Despite being home to the Texas Medical Center, large swaths of the city are measured as having high or moderately high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, according to the Health of Houston Survey 2015. The majority of these areas also possess the highest levels of residents in fair or poor health. This mirrors rural and urban areas across much of Texas, where health disparities are similar to those found in developing nations.
“There’s a greater concern today among employers that the overall state of Houston’s health care system is not what we need it to be,” said Bob Harvey, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership. Harvey said companies considering a move to Houston typically ask questions about the business climate, educational opportunities and the state of the local health care system.
“I think of the University of Houston as being an ideal proponent of focus on primary care —on health care for the urban setting as well as the rural setting,” Harvey said. “It’s always found that balance between quality and access.”
Distinctive from its local and national counterparts, the University of Houston College of Medicine aims for at least 50 percent of each graduating class to specialize in primary care compared to the national average of about 20 percent. The goal will be achieved through strategic recruiting and establishing a culture and curriculum that immerse students in primary care and underserved settings throughout the four-year program.
“This is really a step to the future,” said McKeon. “This is the beginning of what I think many medical schools will do is really build a much broader base of primary care physicians because that’s what our community needs. So when we think about the investment this is an investment in our future that will pay huge dividends to our communities. It will start to change the way medical students are delivering care.”
Earlier this month, Humana Inc. announced a $15 million gift to UH to launch the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute, which will unite the College of Medicine with the existing Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work and Optometry. The strategic collaboration is designed to graduate physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who are trained in population health, and have a propensity for primary care and for working with the underserved in the local community.
In addition, the University is finalizing a partnership with HCA Houston Healthcare, the largest hospital company in the nation, to bring a total of 389 new resident positions to the College of Medicine over its first six years. The College of Medicine is scheduled to admit thirty students in its inaugural class pending approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Legislature, and accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
“I think we all have a responsibility for the well-being of our community,” said well-known Houston businessman and philanthropist Jim McIngvale, also known as “Mattress Mack,” about the UH mission to help people in underserved communities. “That’s what UH does, it reaches out and strengthens our entire community.”
UH College of Medicine Timeline of Events
Nov. 2017: Approved by UH Board of Regents; Announced residency partnership with HCA Houston Healthcare
Feb. 2018: Named Dr. Stephen Spann as Founding Dean
Sept. 2018: Surpassed 75% of $40 million private philanthropy goal ($31.1 million); Announced the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute; Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Committee on Workforce Success adopts recommendation to approve UH Doctor of Medicine degree (Sept. 27)
Oct. 2018: Scheduled vote by Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (Oct. 25)
Dec. 2018: Initiate Liaison Committee on Medical Education application for accreditation
Jan. 2019: Seek $40 million from Texas Legislature over 10 years as one-third of total startup cost ($40 million private philanthropy, $40 million intellectual property revenue)