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TCU, UNT Health Science Center to open M.D. school in Fort Worth

TCU, UNT unveil plans for medical school

TCU and UNT Health Science Center to create new medical school. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)
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TCU and UNT Health Science Center to create new medical school. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)

Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas Health Science Center are teaming up to open a new medical school in the heart of the city.

TCU and UNTHSC have signed a memorandum of understanding detailing a collaboration between the two academic institutions to open an M.D. school with as many as 60 new students in 2018.

About $25 million from private donors has already been pledged to start the new medical school, said UNTHSC President Michael R. Williams. TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said his school has pledged to use $50 million from its endowment to support the effort.

“It’s been overwhelming, the response we’ve gotten,” Boschini said.

The University of North Texas Board of Regents approved the agreement at a Monday morning board meeting. TCU’s board has already approved the plan, Boschini said.

The M.D. school will give Fort Worth two medical schools. Since 1970, UNTHSC has been home to the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which will continue to operate at the campus just west of downtown.

“There is nothing wrong with having two medical schools in the same town,” Williams said Monday morning during a meeting with the Star-Telegram’s editorial board.

Fort Worth is the largest city in the United States without a school that offers an M.D. degree.

Facilities, faculty, medical library and other resources would be shared between the two institutions to create the school, which would ultimately enroll a total of 240 students by 2021-22.

No name has been given to the school, but officials said it will include both TCU and UNTHSC. The school could be named after someone who contributes financially, like the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.

A dean for the school — who would provide leadership, hire faculty and develop a curriculum of study — would be selected by both institutions and report to provosts at both schools.

“Having a medical school … it’s the natural next step for us,” said Boschini, explaining that the creation of a medical school satisfies two of the university’s long-term goals — to increase the number of graduate students and to boost the school’s “academic profile.”

No state approval needed

While the degrees will be a joint effort between both schools, they will not contain the UNTHSC name. Under a bill authored by then-Sen. Mike Moncrief in 1993, legislation stipulated that no M.D. degrees could be awarded from UNTHSC.

Williams said he hopes that law can be reversed during the next legislative session in 2017, the same year the M.D. school will begin accepting applications.

“As you know, we have a statute hanging over our heads,” Williams said. “We plan on having that statute overturned or lifted.”

He said because no state funding will be used at the school, no other approval will need to come from the Legislature. The statute has proven to be a stumbling block in past efforts by UNTHSC to get a M.D. program.

“We could do a school tomorrow with just TCU on [the diploma],” Williams said.

M.D. students will attend classes at both campuses, which are less than three miles apart.

TCU is looking to benefit from UNTHSC’s expertise in osteopathic medicine and healthcare. Besides housing the osteopathic medical school, the UNTHSC campus has the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Public Health, the School of Health Professions and the UNT System College of Pharmacy.

The two schools already collaborate as students from TCU’s Neeley School of Business and UNTHSC’s School of Public Health participate in UNTHSC’s master’s program in health administration.

Each partner is counting on the other for the plan to work.

“We have a fondness for each other,” Williams said. “And our working relationship is really strong.”

Meeting health care needs

For years, UNTHSC has produced “outstanding” D.O. graduates from its Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

UNTHSC “meets a growing need in our state for primary care physicians,’’ Nelson said. “I look forward to learning more about the partnership from university leadership, and know they will continue their tradition of excellence.”

Brint Ryan, chairman of the UNT System Board of Regents, said M.D. and D.O. programs can work together well.

“We’ve looked at programs where the M.D. and D.O. programs coexist, and those happened to be some of the strongest D.O. programs in the country,” Ryan said. “That’s the model we want to pursue. … We think they’re complementary.”

Texas is in dire need of physicians, according to an April study, The Physician Workforce in Texas: An Examination of Physician Distribution, based on the American Medical Society’s Master Physician List. The report showed that it would take 12,819 additional physicians to bring Texas in line with the national average of 226 physicians per 100,000 population.

The Dallas/Fort Worth area has 197.2 physicians per 100,000 people.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, speaking at an announcement and celebration of the new deal at Bass Performance Hall, cited figures from the Association of American Medical Colleges that show the U.S. will have a shortage of 90,000 physicians in the next decade.

“This medical school will go a long way toward addressing that,” she said.

Price said she’s a special fan of the science center.

“As a native of Fort Worth, I watched that bowling alley that burned and turned into the UNT Health Science Center, and it grew and grew,” she said to rousing applause.

Based on UNTHSC figures, Williams estimated that every year 5,400 to 5,500 medical school applicants vie for 1,500 to 1,600 slots nationwide.

He said the idea of sharing share resources and infrastructure is a national trend in medical school development. As an example, he mentioned the New York Institute of Technology, which partners with other universities globally to offer 90 degree programs, including osteopathic medicine.

Many organizations “are not staying within the historic bounds of the way schools are funded,” Williams said.

The new school must be accredited but officials believe they have the credentials and resources to seal accreditation with little or no difficulty.

Both leaders said the partnership makes sense because the institutions share similar values.

“We just don’t have a football team,” Williams said.

Staff writer Robert Cadwallader contributed to this report.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

Twitter: @yberard

What you need to know

When will the school open?

The M.D. school will begin accepting applications in fall 2017 and classes will begin in fall 2018. Classes will be taught at both campuses, which are less than three miles apart.

Does the school need approval from the state?

No approval is needed from the state because it will be a private school and will not need state funding. “We can do the school tomorrow with just TCU on it,” says UNTHSC President Michael Williams.

Which school will award the degrees?

While the M.D. school will be managed by both schools, the degrees will not contain the name of UNTHSC. Legislation authored by then-Sen. Mike Moncrief in 1993 stipulated that no M.D. program could be awarded by UNTHSC.

How many students will be in the school?

The first class will have 60 students and enrollment is expected to reach 240 by 2021-2022.

How much will it cost to start?

Officials estimate $75 million. UNTHSC says it has $25 million in pledges and TCU has $50 million in endowments. Long-term funding will come from tuition, fees and private support.

Will tuition rates be raised at either university?

No, the tuition for current UNTHSC and TCU students will not be raised by the creation of the M.D. school. The tuition of the M.D. school will be determined by TCU and UNTHSC.

Who will lead the M.D. school?

A dean will be jointly hired by TCU and UNTHSC and report to provosts at both schools. The dean will have an office on both campuses.

What about faculty?

Existing faculty at both universities will be used and the dean will be in charge of new hires.

What is the difference between osteopathic medicine (D.O.) and allopathic medicine (M.D.)?

Osteopathic medicine

A practice that is centered on the whole person, the body's ability to heal itself and disease prevention. Doctors of osteopathic medicine are called D.O.s and are fully trained and licensed to prescribe medicine and treat symptoms using drugs, radiation or surgery.

Allopathic medicine

A system in which medical doctors, or M.D.s, and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation or surgery.

Sources: TCU, UNTHSC, American Osteopathic Association, National Institutes of Health

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