M.D. program effort in Fort Worth starts now for 2015

Posted Monday, May. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The 2013 regular session of the Texas Legislature ends with the sound of cheers for new medical schools moving forward in South Texas and in Austin. Meanwhile, often-voiced desires for adding an M.D. program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth are met again with the sound of silence.

That’s not a surprise. The session began in January with momentum behind creation of a new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, and the clout behind plans for a University of Texas at Austin medical school has been matched by tax dollars approved by Austin voters.

Still, successful efforts by supporters of those new schools show how far there is to go if a new M.D. program is ever to be added to the existing osteopathic medicine programs at UNTHSC.

Supporters have pledged money for the new program, and administrative staff and facilities are mostly in place. But it takes political strength to get things like this rolling. That requires a lot of building blocks put into place, and it takes a unified campaign.

There is no time to waste if that sort of campaign is to be put together for the next regular legislative session, in 2015.

Efforts in the Rio Grande Valley are perhaps most illustrative. The key to putting those efforts over the top this year was passage of Senate Bill 24, creating a new University of Texas institution and medical school in South Texas by merging the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, a lawmaker who served two terms in the House and now is in his 12th term in the Senate, was one of the leaders of that effort.

“The inclusion of the future South Texas school of medicine as part of this new university marks the culmination of decades of work expanding higher education and in particular medical education in the Valley,” Lucio said when SB24 cleared its last Senate hurdle last week.

“Today also marks the culmination of an entire session’s worth of hard work from the UT system and members of the Valley legislative delegation,” Lucio said.

The UT system pledged to accelerate creation of the South Texas School of Medicine by investing $100 million in the new institution during the next 10 years. All of these efforts were supported by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus.

Perry called passage of SB24 “a historic moment.”

UNTHSC leaders went into this year’s regular session, as they did the one two years ago, saying they would be working hard to put their proposal for an M.D. degree program on the legislative action list.

Better luck next time will require more:

The effort needs a dedicated leader. That means UNTHSC needs a leader. Michael Williams has been the center’s interim president since December, taking over when Scott Ransom was fired after a policy conflict with UNT system Chancellor Lee Jackson.

UNT, with the help of a local committee, is searching for the next Health Science Center president. Williams, who holds D.O. and M.D. degrees, seems particularly well-suited.

Unity among UNTHSC alumni, or something close to it, is necessary. There has been conflict over whether adding an M.D. program would diminish the prestige of the current D.O. programs.

Strong legislative leadership is essential. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, as the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services committee, would be a powerful ally.

Community support, in the form of lobbying effort from local leaders, can’t be left out.

There’s no shame in having been left behind by other powerful groups during this year’s session.

But if an M.D. degree program at UNTHSC is what UNT and Fort Worth really want, there is much to be done to get legislative support in 2015.

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