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Nevada Makes Progress on Doctor Shortage

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The charter class of UNLV medical school grads enjoyed free tuition, thanks to a scholarship program funded by donations from the community. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV)
The charter class of UNLV medical school grads enjoyed free tuition, thanks to a scholarship program funded by donations from the community. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
May 7, 2021

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) will graduate its very first class of 50 medical students today, marking a milestone in a fight to attract more doctors to the Silver State.

A report from the University of Nevada Reno found the state ranks 45th in the country for its number of active physicians per 100,000 people, so it's not uncommon in some areas to wait months for appointments for non-emergency care.

Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine and UNLV vice president for health affairs, said a little more than one-third of this year's graduates have committed to doing their medical residencies in Nevada.

"Part of the issue is, we need to expand the number of residency training positions in our state," Kahn asserted. "We rank 46th when you look at number of residents per capita. We have to improve that."

Kahn noted right now, the state doesn't have training programs for certain sub-specialties, so procedures like liver and bone-marrow transplants have to be done elsewhere.

Part of the solution, he suggested, is the new $150 million UNLV medical education building under construction. The university received a $3 million grant from UnitedHealthcare to support an integrated training program and diversify the workforce.

Until now, the state had to rely entirely on the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, built in 1969, which will graduate about 75 medical students next week.

John Packham, associate dean for the office of statewide initiatives at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, said the lifestyle and the unmet demand for medical care make Nevada an attractive place to start a new practice.

"We have a really high retention rate," Packham observed. "Typically, between 50% and 60% of physicians every year who complete their residencies and fellowships in Nevada, stay in Nevada to practice."

Packham added he's keeping an eye on budget negotiations, and hopes to see full funding for higher education, for the Governor's Task Force on Graduate Medical Education, and for the Nevada Health Service Corps, which pays off student loans for doctors who agree to practice in medically underserved areas.

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