The Board of Regents of the University of North Texas on Monday offered its unanimous support of the Health Science Center at Fort Worth to team with Texas Christian University to form a new medical degree program, an initiative that will create the third medical school in North Texas and its second M.D. track.
“Peter Drucker, the father of modern business theory, once said, ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it,’” said Dr. Michael Williams, the president of the UNT Health Science Center. “That’s what we’re here to do today ladies and gentlemen: Create the future.”
TCU’s board approved the collaborative school on June 30 and allocated $50 million in donations from private donors to help pay for it. The UNTHSC is providing about $25 million in private donations to help cover costs, Williams said. That money was raised in 2009 after the UNT Board of Regents tasked UNTHSC with creating a medical school. Williams said each of those donors was briefed on the new model and offered “capacity support.” Currently, he said there are no plans to use public funds to pay for the school.
TCU was brought to the table last spring. Without the private college’s participation, UNTHSC wouldn’t be able to issue M.D. degrees. That goes back to 1993, when the Legislature voted into law a bill sponsored by then-state Sen. Mike Moncrief (and the city of Fort Worth’s former mayor) that created the school but barred it from offering an M.D. program. As such, TCU will issue the degrees, Williams said. State law would have to change before the UNT Health Science Center adds its name; the next chance for that to happen will be in 2017 during the 85th legislative session.
The Cultural District university already offers a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine through the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is accredited by the Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. In announcing the new school, Williams said the collaborative with TCU would pursue M.D. accreditation through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which judges American medical degree programs. Currently, UT Southwestern Medical Center is the only school in the region with a doctorate of medicine program.
“We’re going to develop a premiere M.D. school in the state of Texas and the nation,” said TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. “This is probably one of the most ambitious academic projects we’ve ever undertaken at TCU.”
The school was formally announced in the mezzanine foyer of Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth on Monday afternoon. Williams and Boschini joined Mayor Betsy Price, UNT Board of Regents Chairman Brint Ryan, and TCU Board of Trustees Chairman Clarence Scharbauer III. It’s important to note that all that has been approved is the plan to form a school. The framework and philosophy is there, but specific details about what that will look like in action remain fluid, Boschini said.
Confirmed details from Monday’s proceedings: The current plan has applications being accepted in the fall of 2017. The first class will attend the school in the fall semester of 2018. The school will start off with 60 students each year and grow to 240 by the 2021-2022 school year. Classes will take place at both TCU and UNTHSC, and Williams says he doesn’t anticipate any new construction: “This is a very efficient cost model because, just like the original model we designed, the sharing of existing infrastructure means a lot of infrastructure that we don’t have to create.”
Down the road, the school plans to launch various research initiatives and will partner with hospitals across the state for residencies.
Now, what comes next: Boschini says the two universities have appointed a joint committee to find a dean. That dean will be in charge of hires and appointments and overall curriculum—he or she will decide whether current faculty will teach and also make any new hires to fill empty positions. Tuition should be around $50,000, Boschini said, but that number could change as the plans progress. He said it would be “very competitive” with other private programs, most of which average around $51,000 a year, according to the American Medical Association.
As for that curriculum, Williams is honed in on ensuring that the students are prepared to practice in a team alongside other specialties. A medical degree program was necessary for UNTHSC to fulfill that strategy and get the next generation of doctors accustomed to practicing outside of traditional silos, he said.
“Our goal at the UNT Health Science Center is to take a national lead in developing future care models,” Williams said. “One of the big keys is to develop team-based care … (by having) all kinds of healthcare experts to come around the patient to make the absolute best care plan.”
The state, much like the country, is facing an acute shortage of healthcare practitioners. Earlier this year, Irving physician recruitment firm Merritt-Hawkins teamed with the Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council, and the North Texas Regional Extension Center to survey each of the state’s 254 counties to determine just how significant it is. It found that North Texas has 197.2 physicians per 100,000—a number that falls below the national average of 226 per 100,000.
Some areas dipped far lower, and not just in rural swaths: Southeast Dallas has just 54 physicians per 100,000 residents, while southwest Dallas has 36. Too, medical students who learn in Texas are three times as likely to stay in the state after their residency, according to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine. During her speech, Price noted the shortage and the demand before praising the two Fort Worth institutions for making an effort to stave off the problem.
“The healthcare industry in Fort Worth makes up about 15 percent of our local economy. That’s significant, and when you take in Tarrant County, it’s more than that,” she said. “TCU and UNT Health Science Center are doing their part to address the shortage of doctors we’ve seen in Texas and in the United States.”