As a graduate of both the University of Texas at Austin for undergrad and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) for medical school, I have spent years hearing about the possibility of a medical school in Austin. A proud Austinite by birth, the idea has always brought a sense of excitement at the prospect of an academic medical center in our booming, tech-savvy capital. But talk is cheap, years have passed, and I finally gave up on the idea on seeing a medical school blossom in the Hill Country.
Fast-forward to now, and a new wave of enthusiasm seems to be gaining momentum in Austin after State Senator Kirk Watson just outlined an ambitious plan to establish a medical school, a teaching hospital, a series of neighborhood clinics and a health-related research institute in Austin. Interestingly, Austin is the second largest city in the nation without a medical school, with the largest being San Jose, California. Watson laid out a plan to the Austin American Statesman, as a growing number of civic leaders have agreed that Austin should indeed have a med school.
In the past years, trainees from institutions such as the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have done clinical “away” rotations here in Austin—in medicine, family practice and pediatrics, to name a few. In my third year of medical school, I actually spent a great deal of time doing clinical rotations in some of the primary care fields at institutions and private doctors offices in Austin.
Interestingly, Austin is the second largest city in the nation without a medical school, with the largest being San Jose, California.
Since then, the devastation of Hurricane Ike on the physical structure of the medical center in Galveston caused a strain on the institution fondly known as Texas’ oldest medical school. Students were sent to Austin and other cities in Texas to continue school and training as the institution worked to rebound back to what it is today. Because of these relocations, the University of Texas Southwestern has become more involved in the scene. In the past couple of years, the UTSW Medical Center in Dallas and Seton have collaborated to expand medical research and training, a partnership that seems to currently be understood as a possible precursor to a medical school.
What is clear to me despite the politics of the situation is that an academic medical center in Austin could be extremely successful. If the UT Board of Regents hopes to expand medical training and research, it seems the most sensible place to centralize that effort would be the state capital. With medical schools in San Antonio, Houston, Galveston and Dallas, the University of Texas system would benefit from a central academic medical center to offer clinical rotations, specialty health clinics and a potential institute for public and private research, with all of the opportunities inherent to such an endeavor.
Academic medicine brings state-of-the-art in research and technology to a place in which it lives, and the jobs created also allow for an influx of bright, talented people and a boost to the city economy. Greater access to healthcare for indigent or the noninsured commonly results from training institutions and satellite clinics in our broken healthcare system where private practices often require payment up front or insurance reimbursement from third party payors for treatments to be rendered and continued. Helping to meet the expanding health care needs of a rapidly growing population cannot be understated; to me, it seems onerous and antiquated for Austinites to feel that they need to travel to Houston or Dallas for cutting edge medical treatments or surgical procedures.
When I recently decided to move back to my hometown of Austin so my twin ten month old boys could grow up near their family, the first question I asked of myself—and then of others—was, “Does Austin have a medical school yet?” As a program director of cosmetic plastic surgery in Manhattan, I realized how important and prestigious it can and will be for this city to boast an academic medical center.
I am happy to see that legislators, key business people, city officials and medical professionals are getting on the same page about moving forward with the medical school in Austin. There are clear partnerships and relationships that need to be fostered, as well a major budget that needs to be outlined, but as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” And now let’s get on with building our field of dreams.