October 11, 2011
This is shaping up to be a pretty special moment in our city’s history.
The Statesman had a great writeup over the weekend about how much work has gone into the development of a medical school, teaching hospital and health science center in Austin. As it says, this is a “watershed moment” in the long effort to take advantage of the huge economic, educational and health benefits that a medical school, teaching hospital and health science center could offer.
If I may quote myself and spoil the ending, let me just say: We have so many good people ready to do good work that success is immensely possible. And to not do it and not get started on the path would be extraordinarily regrettable.
This is big. It’s going to be hard. But it needs to be done.
If you want to take a look at the 10 goals in 10 years that we’ve set as a community, or learn about the organizing committee I’ve set up to help achieve them, go here.
The fact is, a medical school and health science center in Austin will offer a lift in the quality and type of care available to Central Texans, including additional treatments, more doctors and access to clinical trials. It will translate into more residency programs, bringing more doctors here and enticing them to remain here after their training.
This nucleus of activity will also create thousands of jobs, a lot of economic activity, and new startup firms, biotech products, and technology.
Furthermore, this effort should lead to things like a comprehensive cancer center (one of my 10 goals in 10 years). As Doug Ulman (president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation) said in the article, “The health care within Central Texas has not kept pace with the growth.”
Doug had another quote that should give us all pause. He said, “Over the 10 years I have lived in Austin, I don’t know one individual (diagnosed with cancer) who has not sought a second opinion outside of Austin. There is something wrong with that picture.”
In other words, people shouldn’t have to leave Austin to get the treatment and cures they need. A medical school and health science center will help folks stay here and get better here.
And we have so many assets to help make this a reality. The Seton Healthcare Family, St. David’s Healthcare, more than 200 biotech and life science companies, Dell Children’s Medical Center and Pediatric Research Institute … the list goes on.
And, of course, there’s the University of Texas at Austin, which is very well-positioned to provide so many of the programs and so much of the infrastructure that’s needed to create a successful medical school here.
The university’s commitment rang through once again last week during a forum I participated in with UT President William Powers Jr.
President Powers declared there that UT wants to establish a “world-class medical school,” and he enumerated some of the benefits it could bring.
He also noted the critical pieces that UT already has created to support a medical school, including nursing, pharmacy, biochemical engineering, social work and chemistry programs, to name a few. To quote the Statesman article on that appearance, those programs represent “the big part of the iceberg” when it comes to a medical school.
We also have Central Health, Travis County’s healthcare district.
Not only is Central Health playing an active role on the Organizing Committee I put together, but it’s going through its own process to build consensus around steps the community can take to improve health and healthcare in Central Texas. (This is very much in-line with my 10-in-10 goal of creating modern, uniquely Austin health clinics in our neighborhoods and across the community.)
This week, Central Health will start working with community leaders to build support around ways to make Austin a healthier place. As part of that effort, the district is issuing a long report (what it calls a white paper) offering a look at where Central Texas stands on health and healthcare.
This report covers a ton of ground, including on the need for a medical school, teaching hospital and health science center in Austin. It states that the region will need to add nearly 3,000 physicians by 2020 to keep up with our growth. For many communities, medical schools are the main source of new doctors because graduates frequently practice in the areas where they were trained.
In addition, it says, a medical school and related facilities will probably increase the availability of not only primary care physicians, but also – and this is important – medical subspecialists who will improve care for the uninsured and underinsured, fuel research discovery and clinical trials, and stimulate new industry growth (such as technology and biotechnology) and entrepreneurship.
“This type of expansion would attract businesses with high wage jobs requiring a more educated workforce, and support additional economic development,” the report says.
And for a kicker, it quotes the economic research firm Texas Perspectives, which projects that “expanding academic medicine in Central Texas, such as by developing a medical school – along with its ripple effect of investment in the local economy – could produce an additional $2 billion in annual economic activity and earnings and nearly 15,000 permanent jobs in the region through spending related to education, life sciences, and other sectors to support these growth areas.”
This is too big an opportunity for Austin – and we have too many assets – to miss our chance. As I and many others keep saying, it’s time for Austin to have a medical school, and everything that goes with it.
I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
I fully intended to be open and transparent about the training and weight loss program I’m on. That was my intention when I thought I’d be in a position to brag about how great I’m doing. Of course, I’m trying to be ready to run a half marathon in mid-November.
Let’s just say that, for now anyway, it’s better for me to keep things to myself.