Fort Worth M.D. school will be a prescription for economic growth

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The TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, set to open in 2019, will have a $100 million to $150 million economic impact on Fort Worth when it reaches maturity in about 10 years, but that shrinks into insignificance when the overall impact of an academic medical center is considered, says consultant Paul Umbach.

“When you look at the economic impact of a medical school, you really just start with the medical school itself. That’s the teaching of medical students, and it’s the faculty and the folks that come together,” Umbach said at a Leadership Fort Worth community event on April 18 at the Fort Worth Club and at a later news conference. Both focused on health care.

“But when you start to look across the country at all of the academic medical centers, the average is about $1.7 billion a year for each of those,” Umbach said. “Keep in mind, that’s every year; so, every year there’s $1.7 billion that circulates throughout the regional economy from a fully developed academic medical center.”

Umbach is founder and president of Tripp Umbach, a national consulting firm that provides economic impact analysis for academic health centers around the country. A specific formal report on the expected economic impact of the new medical school in Fort Worth is expected by the end of May.

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Dr. Stuart Flynn, founding dean of the school, also announced at the breakfast that Fort Worth pharmaceutical executive, business investor and entrepreneur Paul Dorman will provide full first-year tuition to the inaugural class of M.D. students at the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. The announcement drew a standing ovation. Flynn said later that tuition will be about $50,000 a year at the new school, bringing the gift’s value to more than $3 million. (See: Fort Worth entrepreneur, Page X.)

Umbach praised the partnership between the University of North Texas Health Science Center, which already has an osteopathic medical school, and Texas Christian University is establishing an allopathic school to grant M.D. degrees. “We’ve had a chance to be involved with 15 of the last 17 medical schools in the United States,” he said. “We’ve had about 50 projects like this, and the ones that start in partnership are always the better ones and always the stronger ones.”

The TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine will provide additional value to the community through the training and graduating of physicians who the schools hope will remain in the region and state to practice after residency training. Each physician is expected to generate an estimated $1.5 million in economic impact and potentially provide $300,000 in tax revenue each year for the state of Texas because of operational, employee and visitor spending. These are considered new funds to the economy, not resources diverted from elsewhere in the community, according to the study.

Additionally, each practicing physician is estimated to provide 13 new jobs. These jobs are in addition to those the medical school will account for directly and are expected to provide a stable source of income for North Texans because academic health centers are considered strong economic engines and are not typically affected by fluctuations in the economy.

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According to the report by Tripp Umbach, the new medical school will benefit the life sciences industry in Fort Worth by attracting top scientists and faculty as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the country.

“It’s fitting to start highlighting the incredible economic impact that the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine will have on our region as it approaches accreditation,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. “And, beyond the economic impact, I’m thrilled to see how this new school will only further the city’s image as a world-class higher education hub that will draw more medical professionals and their families to Fort Worth.”

The new school will also have a less direct – but important – impact on economic development, said Brandom Gengelbach, executive vice president for economic development at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s just one more tool in our belt we have to use to talk about what a progressive community we have, the advantages we have, what the workforce is going to be, what the future looks like,” said Gengelbach. “As a salesperson you want to have all of those different components. Being able to be one of the few in the nation to have something like this is a big advantage.”

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Flynn has consistently talked about the importance of training young physicians to be technically savvy but at the same time hands-on caregivers who listen to their patients. That can be difficult in the face of exploding medical technology and knowledge. Medical knowledge, he said, doubles every 73 days.

“There’s no human who can stay on top of that,” Flynn said, “so part of our training for these young people will teach them and introduce them to the tools to stay on the cutting edge of their profession and how to be comfortable with those tools.”

At the same time, they will be trained in the human aspects of medicine. Flynn said studies show that the overwhelming demand from patients is for good communication with caregivers who take the time to “sit down, take a breath, look me in the eye, listen, answer some questions, and touch me, even if it’s a hand on my shoulder.”

He said that that skill really has never been taught in medical education but that the Fort Worth school has hired Dr. Evonne Kaplan-Liss from the Alan Alda Center in New York City, a specialist in training physicians to communicate with patients.

“We take this seriously,” Flynn said. “This is a pillar of our medical school. It’s not an add-on that we’re just going to assume every one of our graduates knows how to communicate well.”

Some of the economic benefits of the medical school are more intangible but still significant. Starting a school from scratch lets it try approaches that are difficult if not impossible to institute in an already existing school.

Flynn said that all students will start to see patients during their first year and they’ll keep those patients for all four years of medical training. “This is a new training model that is unique in the United States,” he said. “It’s not unique in Canada. It’s not unique in Australia. It’s not unique in 30 other countries. The reason we can do this here is because we have a brand new medical school. I cannot go to an established medical school and do this.”

Extrapolated to half the population of the Metroplex, “that’s $200 billion that you could have in your economy if we could make Fort Worth the healthiest place in America … without adding a single person, just by having the healthiest workforce in America.” That can happen, he said, because Flynn’s medical students will encourage people to be healthier.

“My vision is that in 2030, people will come to Fort Worth from all over the world, and they will say, ‘This is where health care changed first, and this is where health care got a lot better, a lot more affordable, and that the population started to get a lot healthier,’ ” Umbach said.

Paul K. Harral contributed to this article

The report

A formal report from Tripp Umbach is expected by the end of May.

Highlights from currently available data:

• Tripp Umbach believes the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine will leverage and further enhance the region’s health care, biotech and academic industry by diversifying its offerings. This will not only create jobs by attracting and retaining a quality workforce and sparking potential commercialization and spinoff business, but it will also keep residents from seeking services elsewhere, ultimately capturing and keeping fresh dollars in the region.

• Tripp Umbach quantifies the national average economic impact of a medical school and its related activity such as bioscience industry growth, research, workforce and clinical care at $1.7 billion annually and 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.

• A research-based school of medicine plays a crucial role for regions as its associated impact averages $144 million annually for operations (just the education component).

• Tripp Umbach has estimated an annual health care cost savings of $288 million in a region if 80 new primary-care physicians stay in the region to practice.

Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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