Board to weigh wishes for new med schools

Board of Governors to look at cost


Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 11:34 p.m.

Four years ago and against the recommendations of many, Florida State University landed the nation's first new medical school in 25 years.

Now Florida International University and the University of Central Florida want their own medical schools. Their fate may lie in the hands of several experts who plan on telling the state Board of Governors today whether they think new schools are a good idea.

In its first meeting of the new year, the Board of Governors will listen to doctors and administrators from the University of Florida, Nova Southeastern University, the University of South Florida, Jackson Memorial Hospital and Florida State University. The doctors and administrators are expected to lay out what they see as the status of medical education in the state - and the price tag to provide it. The workshop is the first of two on the topic.

"It's a fact-finding mission to find out more about the costs," said Board of Governors member Dr. Zach Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale cardiologist co-chairing a subcommittee on medical education.

The creation of one or more new medical schools could be a considerable draw on state coffers at a time when public universities are fighting for every penny they can get.

A decision could be one of the most significant for the Board of Governors this year.

Florida International University plans to file a formal request as early as next month seeking the Board of Governors' approval to open a medical school. Trustees at the University of Central Florida have begun looking into the possibility.

Statistics gathered by Dr. Robert Watson, a UF professor of neurology and senior associate dean for educational affairs, could very well shove the Board of Governors away from considering such proposals.

He acknowledges that some reports show Florida doesn't graduate near enough medical students to provide for the state's current and future needs.

But merely adding new schools may not be the best answer.

Rather, Watson added that Florida ranks 45th among states in the number of medical residencies it provides for graduate students. In other words, no matter how many students graduate from state medical schools, many are forced to complete their residency programs in other states.

Adding extra residency spots in the state could capture many of the students who would have gone elsewhere and provide for medical students from other states, increasing the ability for the state to grow its own health care professionals, Watson said.

"Residents are much more likely to practice near where they did their residency," Watson said.

He added that bonuses for medical school grads, such as loan forgiveness and lifelong continuing education, could become important recruitment devices.

"The long-term strategy, in my view, is not going toward building new medical schools," he said.

Some board members already are convinced that taking on the construction of new medical schools is not financially feasible at this time. It is estimated that FIU would have to raise $100 million to $250 million for just facilities from public and private sources.

"It's a luxury we can't afford at this time in higher education," Tallahassee lawyer Steve Uhlfelder said. "There's going to be a heavy burden placed on universities to show that they need this."

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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