When it comes to universities in Texas, there are a lot of competing loyalties in the Watson household.I went to undergrad and law school at Baylor (as the repeated “@baylorproud” references on my Twitter feed may have indicated). Liz, my wife, went to Texas Tech. Our oldest son, Preston, just graduated from UT-Austin.
(Understandably, there’s a lot of pressure on our youngest, Cooper, who’s going to be a senior in high school this fall, to choose his next education home carefully and well.)
Even before Preston enrolled at UT, I’ve felt a certain bond with the place. You can’t live in Austin as long as I have without getting at least a little bit of burnt orange in your blood.
But even more than that, you can’t be Mayor of this city, or observe anything about its economy or quality-of-life, without seeing what an overwhelmingly positive force UT has been for Austin. There’s virtually nothing you can point to around here – from the environmentalism to the tech economy to the live-music scene – that doesn’t have a definite tie back to UT in some way.
So I enjoyed teaming up with UT President Bill Powers last week to discuss how a new medical school – created alongside a teaching hospital and other health-care assets outlined in my 10 Goals in 10 Years – can provide a huge economic and health windfall for Austinites while also helping the university.
Back to school
One of my favorite classes from back when I was an undergrad was Doctor Cooper’s logic course. (Insert your own joke here.)There were plenty of lessons that stuck with me from that class. One of them is the value of evaluating something by using a syllogism.
For those of you who weren’t in Dr. Cooper’s class, it’s a pretty basic concept: you use a couple of declarative statements to draw connections and conclusions about something. As in:
- Summer is hot.
- It is summer.
- Therefore, it is hot.
- I don’t know any Lady Gaga songs.
- People who don’t know any Lady Gaga songs are getting old.
- Therefore, I am getting …
You get the idea.What does all of this have to do with a medical school in Austin?
What a med school means
Our community has a lot of good things going for it in terms of health care. Central Health, our healthcare district, is working to increase access to health care for the county’s uninsured and underserved. UT has exciting, world-changing research going on every day across campus that could help people live longer and healthier lives. The Seton Healthcare Family has preliminarily pledged $250 million to build a new, modern teaching hospital to serve Austinites.But there’s something that all of these things need to reach their full potential:
Now, of course, Austin has plenty of great doctors already. They’re providing top-flight care and in many cases offering unique treatments that you can’t easily find elsewhere right now. We just don’t have enough of them.
More than that, we’re falling further behind – it’s estimated that by 2016, our community will need 770 more doctors than it will have. That shortage will only grow with our population, particularly as doctors start retiring. And the shortage is – and will be – even worse for those who have no insurance and difficulty paying for health care.
We all, obviously, need doctors to make sure we can get an appointment when we need one, and to help keep minor ailments from becoming catastrophic problems that send folks to the emergency room.
But more than that, Central Health can’t increase access to health care without more doctors. Researchers will need doctors to help translate their discoveries into therapies. A new teaching hospital will need medical students and residents to learn, treat patients and eventually practice here (studies show that most doctors set up practices in the same communities where they receive their training).
I’ve talked a lot about how much a med school and the affiliated assets would mean to our economy – they’ll create about 15,000 permanent jobs and $2 billion in economic activity. And that’s huge; health care is a critical part of the 21st Century that our economy needs to grow into.
But even more than that, we just need a reliable stream of doctors. We need them to offer treatments that are available now only in Houston, Dallas or even further-off cities. We need them to staff the clinics that will treat those who need health care and can’t afford it. We need them to fill up a modern teaching hospital so that it serves as many folks as it possibly can. And we need them to make sure that Austin, not some other city that’s invested in medical education, can reap the economic and jobs benefits of discoveries that are being made right here.
Which brings me to the syllogism:
- Austin’s greatest healthcare need is a reliable stream of doctors.
- A reliable stream of doctors is the most important product of a medical school.
- Therefore, Austin’s greatest healthcare need is a medical school.
Make no mistake: we don’t need to do this just for UT, although we’ll also benefit when that great school is made greater by having a medical school.
More than that, we need to do it for ourselves. We need to do it for our friends and family, our neighbors and co-workers, and our neighborhoods and our economy. We need to do it for the health of this great place and its great people.
It’s simple logic.