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Medical school tops FIU, UCF wish lists

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Posted on Mon, May. 16, 2005


Medical school tops FIU, UCF wish lists

Hoping to boost their prestige and prevent what some predict will be a doctor shortage, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida want to build new medical schools.


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For the past two decades, new U.S. medical schools have become about as rare as a doctor's house call.

When Florida State University welcomed its inaugural class four years ago, it became the only med school to open in the country since 1983. None have opened since.

But if Florida International President Modesto ''Mitch'' Maidique has his way, that will change.

For the past decade, the university's leader has turned the pursuit of a new medical school into an obsession.

''FIU will then have all of the pieces that are associated with a major university,'' Maidique said last week, noting that it took him 12 years to get a law school. ``We can legitimately say that we are a full-service university.''

At a recent public ceremony on campus, Maidique mentioned the words ''medical school'' so often that Gov. Jeb Bush said teasingly that the FIU leader could connect the phrase to any topic, seemingly relevant or not.

FIU is not the only university that wants a med school. So do the University of Central Florida and schools in 10 other states.


Why the explosion in medical school interest around the country?

First, the medical establishment is softening its long-held position that there already are too many doctors. Many experts now say there are not enough.

Second, a school like FIU, now ranked in the low fourth tier of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, can boost its prestige with a medical school.

Medical schools have long been status symbols for universities -- competitive and practical programs that train community leaders, make news with their research and bring in scads of grant money.

But they're expensive, depending on tens of millions of state tax dollars every year. At FSU, state taxpayers spent $65 million on buildings and another $168,000 per student in 2004-05.

Even the private University of Miami received an $8.27 million subsidy to train Florida medical students, plus grants that include $1.8 million for cancer care and research.

Maidique and UCF Vice President Terry Hickey say it's worth the money to add more public med schools, because the state faces a doctor shortage.

A key panel of state experts may put the brakes on those plans. Authors of the Medical Education Needs Analysis report agree a doctor shortage is probably coming in Florida ''in the near future,'' but say it would be cheaper and smarter to create more residency positions and expand existing medical schools, rather than build new ones.

Winning over state education leaders and legislators requires a deft mix of political and policy-oriented persuasion.

FSU won state approval for its school in 2000 mainly because then-House Speaker John Thrasher, an alumnus, made it his top priority. Fellow legislators and Gov. Bush knew that no other state business would pass if the med school bill didn't.

Politics has also been a factor in the medical school debate.

In the last legislative session, Florida Atlantic University pushed through a plan titled, Regional Medical Campus at FAU: A Better Way.

FAU President Frank Brogan, the state's former lieutenant governor, pitched the proposal for a branch campus of the UM medical school in Boca Raton as a cheaper way to train new doctors. The politically savvy Brogan trumped the FIU and UCF proposals to win approval from the Legislature and the Board of Governors, which oversees public universities in Florida.


Leaders of the UM/FAU program have said they want to keep tuition down, but their proposal requires students to pay private school tuition. The FAU campus expects to graduate 64 medical students per year by 2011, costing the state $14.6 million a year.

Florida's education leaders expect to decide on the UCF and FIU proposals within the next year.

''It becomes very complicated,'' said Carolyn K. Roberts, chairwoman of the Board of Governors. ``We will have a lot more information before we make a decision because it will be a great investment from the state, a great investment.''

Roberts added that FAU's new extension campus will not affect the decision.

For years, the medical establishment has argued that the country has too many doctors, largely closing off the growth in medical schools.

But the thinking is shifting. The American Medical Association is now neutral on the topic and may further liberalize its position at a meeting next month.

The organization representing medical schools -- the Association of American Medical Colleges -- recommended in February that the United States add 15 percent more physicians by 2015.

Local healthcare experts say there are shortages within specialties and communities, in part, because Florida has high malpractice insurance rates and low reimbursement fees from health maintenance organizations. Florida doctors are also among the nation's oldest, meaning future needs will be greater.

''While there are shortages today, the real issue is 2015,'' said Ed Salsberg, director of the center for workforce studies at the medical college association.


David Blumenthal, director of the Institute for Health Policy at Harvard University, argues that the shortage is a relative one. Americans have more doctors than other industrialized countries, in part, because they insist on more elective screenings that raise overall healthcare costs, he said. But those habits don't seem to be changing.

About 49 percent of students who study in Florida medical schools ultimately practice in the state, whereas 60 percent of those who train in residency programs choose to stay.

But adding resident positions is not simple. They cost $190,000 a year each, and the federal government restricts the number of positions it pays for. It is also harder to attract doctors to residency programs that are not affiliated with medical schools.

Maidique and Hickey say the state can afford to build two new medical schools.

FIU expects to spend $40 million on a new building, with plans to spend as much as $330 million more on additional buildings. Once the program is up and running, with 80 students per class, it will cost the state $20 million to $30 million a year, according to university projections.

UCF has not submitted a formal proposal, but Hickey said costs will be similar.

''The question is: Do the states have the money?'' said Blumenthal, the Harvard official. ``Having five to six new medical schools would not be a tragedy, especially in the states that are growing fast, the Sun Belt states.''

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Second, a school like FIU, now ranked in the low fourth tier of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, can boost its prestige with a medical school.


UCF is ranked in the same tier as FIU - why doesn't the writer connect boosted prestige to UCF as well?

FIU, FAU, UCF, UM.... i can't keep up :wacko:

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This article was geared toward gaining support for FAU's medical school. UCF is ranked a 4th-tier school? If it is, I'm sure that is about to change. Logic only points to having a medical school in the Orlando area. FAU is already in an area where there isn't a scarcity in medical programs. Too bad the Board of Governor's member who is leading the commission investigating new medical programs in the state is an FAU alumni member. There isn't a single person representing UCF in the Board of Governors. When the dust settles though, I think we will win.

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