June 22, 2012
The history, people and economy of Austin and the University of Texas are tightly bound together. They have been for more than a century.
To borrow a medical concept, Austin and UT — the city and the school — are connected at a molecular level. We share an identity; it’s part of our collective DNA.
The university and its hometown support each other culturally, spiritually and economically.
It’s estimated that UT-Austin pours $823 million into our economy every year.
The university employs about 23,000 people in Central Texas, and there are approximately 64,000 Texas exes living and working in Central Texas.
Now we share a tremendous new opportunity to fulfill this successful relationship and to strengthen both our region and our university.
A new medical school at UT-Austin — joined with a new teaching hospital — will transform the way health care is delivered in this region and help us all live longer and healthier lives.
It will trigger a boom in the life sciences industry and potentially create more than 15,000 new jobs in Central Texas. And it will generate an estimated $2 billion a year in economic activity from new institutions, businesses and jobs.
It also will ensure that world-changing discoveries stay here. Too many breakthroughs that are made at UT are commercialized into treatments, companies and jobs in other places. That’s like Mack Brown building a championship football team in Austin, then sending it to a school in California.
A medical school and new teaching hospital will mean not only more research, but also more entrepreneurs and capital to help discoveries bloom into new products and businesses. Plus, we’ll be able to collaborate with other universities – here, across Texas and around the world – like never before.
Fewer than 40 percent of the anticipated new jobs will require at least a four-year college degree. That will give UT the opportunity — one it hasn’t shirked from — to partner with Austin’s schools, community college and universities to ensure we have workers who are trained for these new positions.
A first-class medical school and modern teaching hospital will allow more and more people to get life-saving treatments right here in Austin — care that’s not currently available in Central Texas.
That means patients would no longer have to travel to Houston, Dallas or other cities to seek the care their doctors and families think they need.
These new treatments and health care will come in part from our new foundation of primary- and specialty-care doctors, who also will help fill our large and growing shortage of physicians.
It’s estimated that 85 percent of doctors who study and train in Texas stay here.
Just imagine how many more we could attract by anchoring academic medicine with a UT-Austin medical school.
Furthermore, new students, medical residents and overseeing physicians would provide more affordable specialty care — which Travis County taxpayers help fund — for our poor and uninsured population.
Austin is the largest city and one of the largest metropolitan regions in the country without a four-year medical school. And UT-Austin is one of a small handful of Tier 1 research universities without an affiliated medical school.
At the same time, though, UT is nationally recognized for its basic sciences and other health-related programs.
Just last month, the university opened a new neuro-imaging center.
The investments the university already has made will provide a powerful foundation for the new medical school.
The UT System Board of Regents recently committed an additional $30 million a year to help launch and run a medical school.
With this and other identified funding sources, our community would be responsible for a relatively small percentage of the medical school’s cost — roughly 10 percent on average over the next decade, and a smaller amount over time.
The University of Texas likes to say, “What starts here changes the world.” It’s time to start a medical school here — one that will positively change UT, Austin, Texas and the rest of the world.
Watson, D-Austin, represents District 14 in the Texas Senate Powers is president of the University of Texas at Austin.