The following column was published recently in the Travis County Medical Journal. It was written by Dr. Jim Lindsey, Ascension Ascension Seton’s former chief medical officer and current member of the Dell Medical School Steering Committee.
The creation of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin is a major event in the practice of medicine in Travis County. When UT Austin was created in 1883, the decision was made by voters to construct the state’s medical school in Galveston, 185 miles away from the primary campus but in the state’s third-largest city at that time.
Today, four medical schools and six health institutions carry the University of Texas name, and in 2016 there will be such a school at the flagship university. Before long, you will for the first time practice medicine with young doctors who earned their M.D. here in Travis County.
If we were only adding a medical school, the impact would be significant. But we are also adding two other elements: a new teaching hospital to be constructed by Ascension Seton; and a significant increase in local public funding though Central Health, the county’s health care district, for innovative medical care and health education for the underinsured and uninsured.
All of these changes are occurring in an environment of transformation dictated by health care policy changes at the national level. A basic premise behind the Dell Medical School is that a public-private partnership with UT Austin, the UT System, Central Health and Ascension Seton Healthcare can navigate this new reality more successfully together than alone. The collaboration will bring better local health delivery as it produces world-class clinicians, researchers and medical educators.
As a member of the Dell Medical School Steering Committee, I receive a lot of questions about the school. How many physicians will the university bring to the medical school? What will be their specialties? Who will teach medical students and residents? What will happen to those currently on faculty at UT Southwestern providing graduate medical education?
While we have answers for some of these questions, others will have to wait. As with any venture that has as many variables as this does, certainty is difficult to achieve. Here are the things of which we are fairly certain:
SIZE: The school will start fairly small; about 50 students will matriculate in 2016 (pending approval by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education). It will leverage the tremendous strength of UT Austin as a premier research university to make the most of work in related fields such as pharmacy, social work, nursing and biomedical engineering, as well as natural sciences, social sciences and business. No other UT campus can do this, as no other school has a four-year medical school as part of its academic campus. The opportunities for scholar-physicians are tremendous.
HOSPITAL: A new hospital will be constructed and operated by Ascension Seton near the current Brackenridge site. It will be about the same size as the current hospital. The land under the hospital currently belongs to UT Austin, but the UT System Board of Regents has authorized negotiations so that a very long-term lease can be made with Central Health. A public agency will continue to control the land under the hospital that is the safety net for the Austin community, as it has since the 1880s.
FACULTY: Faculty for the Dell Medical School primarily will include educators, clinicians, researchers and clinician-scientists. The university is looking first at existing faculty who are engaged in medical and medically related research. Some of them may in the future share appointments to the medical faculty and the departments of which they are currently a part. The Dell Medical School will include medical educators consistent with its curriculum and accreditation needs. The current medical community will have opportunities to serve as faculty members to help provide clinical education and training.
GRADUATE MEDICAL EDUCATION: Ascension Seton has demonstrated a proven commitment to training residents and plans to add additional graduate medical education positions. Additionally, Ascension Seton will create opportunities for medical students to deliver care under the supervision of attending physicians. It currently works with UT Southwestern to train residents and fellows. There are 243 today.There are plans to increase the number of residents to more than 300 in the next 10 years.
I would be remiss if I did not note that members of the Travis County Medical Society founded the Central Texas Medical Foundation (CTMF) in 1972 to sponsor graduate medical education in order to improve care of the indigent population. Physician-leaders have always had an important historic role in the development of physicians here. This will continue. The Dell Medical School will be best served by becoming an organic part of a thriving local medical community, not an added feature.
DEAN: An advisory committee is looking for an inaugural dean who will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a medical school on a major research university from the ground up. The new dean is expected to begin work by the end of the year.
COMMUNITY CARE: Central Health and Ascension Seton are working toward an agreement to create a consortium that is taking shape. The object is to become the hub in Travis County for patient-centered care that improves health outcomes through expanded care coordination, types of care and patient management.
IMPACT ON PHYSICIANS: The advent of the Dell Medical School will not mean an influx of a large number of clinical physicians in the local area, as most new physicians will likely be scientists, educators and researchers. However, as the number of residencies increases, we can expect many doctors who complete graduate medical education to begin their practices here, so long as Austin has the quality of life and economic growth that it has enjoyed in the past. There will be opportunities for physicians who are skilled and love teaching to contribute to the education of medical students and young doctors. Finally, there will be a lot more very bright people in this town, doing extraordinary research in our hometown, and that should be very interesting intellectually.
In future articles, I hope to address some of the other questions that members of the medical community have, including the role of St. David’s and women’s health care education.
UT Provost Steven Leslie has established a Steering Committee for the medical school, comprised of representatives from UT, Ascension Seton and Central Health. Committee members are doing the substantial work of creating curriculum, seeking accreditation and building facilities, as well as seeking an inaugural dean. Three engagement groups have been established with the goal of providing feedback to the Steering Committee, delivering updates and receiving input from three key groups: the community, the women’s issues community and the medical community.
The Medical Engagement Group has 34 members representing a wide number of specialties and types of medical and nursing practice, including Michelle Berger, president of the Travis County Medical Society. We welcome your comments and inquiries and are looking for opportunities to present to professional groups . We also plan “town hall meetings” for anyone interested.
As a long-time member of the local medical community, I know that there is some anxiety about the impacts of the new medical school, faculty and graduate programs.
There is great promise, too. Our goal is to ensure that the medical community has input as plans are made and that two-way communications are always in place. You can find information updated at the UT Austin Dell Medical School website and also on Facebook and Twitter.
Dr. Jim Lindsey was Ascension Ascension Seton’s chief medical officer for more than 20 years, following 13 years in the private practice of pulmonary medicine. Board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine, he is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and member of many professional physician organizations.