Historic Health Plan: TCU-UNTHSC join for new school

🕐 7 min read

Fact Box:

• Applications will be accepted in Fall 2017 with first classes in Fall 2018

• The first class should have 60 students with total enrollment expected to be 240 students by 2021-22

• The MD school will share campuses with TCU and UNTHSC

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• Startup funding will come from private sources, including donors who have committed financial support for an MD school in Fort Worth to both TCU and UNTHSC

• Funding for ongoing operation of the MD school will come from tuition, fees and private support

• The school will utilize faculty from both institutions. UNTHSC and TCU will determine jointly who will employ the new faculty.

• Tuition is likely to be in the $50,000 per year range

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TCU, UNTHSC to collaborate on medical school

It was not just a secret. It was a BIG secret.

Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas Health Science Center announced Monday July 6 they would collaborate to develop an MD school.

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It was no secret UTHSC, which operates the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been working on an MD school since 2009 and TCU has been open about growing its graduate programs. But this plan, which came together over coffee in March, has all the hallmarks of Fort Worth’s penchant for bold and sometimes surprising projects.

“We had a lot of planning in 2009 worked out and what made it a go was to have a partner the quality of TCU and a Fort Worth partner,” said UNTHSC President Michael R. Williams, who is both an osteopathic physician and an MD.

Mayor Betsy Price says she’s been working on plans for another medical school in Fort Worth for several years, but didn’t see it come together until recently.

“Texas has a huge shortage of physicians and Fort Worth needs an MD school,” Price said. “We have a fabulous DO school and they’ll just complement each other.”

Williams agreed.

“We would have only done this if we thought this was going to enhance the DO program, as well as all of our programs,” he said.

But it was apparently a surprise to current students at UNTHSC.

“The announcement was certainly unexpected for TCOM osteopathic medical students as well as the majority of the UNT Health Science Center community,” said Lindsey Welch, a student at UNTHSC’s osteopathic medical school. “Now that the development of an MD medical school is a reality, students are eager to partner with our administration to ensure that our needs are considered moving forward,” she said.

TCU has a nursing school and UNTHSC has TCOM, which presents DO degrees. It is presently forbidden by state law from issuing MD degrees, a law the school hopes to change. Until then, graduates will be receiving their degrees from TCU.

The need for a new school centers on a couple of factors, said Williams. An MD school will put Fort Worth on the cutting edge of a movement to instruct medical students in the team model of care, which places the patient at the center of attention, he said.

“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to transform health care by creating the caregiver of the future, someone who believes in a great health care experience and high level outcomes at the lowest possible cost.”


The school will also help alleviate a Texas doctor shortage that has been exacerbated by the state’s rapid growth. Texas ranks 41st among 50 states in physicians per 100,000 residents and would need to add 12,819 physicians in order to be in line with the national per capita average, according a 2011 report from the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

But that shortage is not just related to MD or DO graduates – a crucial factor is the lack of residency training slots at area hospitals. Williams and Boschini said they will begin to work to work with area hospitals immediately to add residency slots. A recent bill sponsored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, provides $53 million with the goal of adding more Graduate Medical Education (GMEs, or residency spots for medical students).

UNTHSC has already announced a collaboration with the JPS Health Network that includes additional residency spots as one of its goals.

Jim Cunningham, chief medical officer at Cook Children’s Health Care System said the TCU-UNTHSC plan will only enhance Fort Worth’s health care profession.

“We can only imagine more advancement to the medical landscape of our community by the addition of this new academic collaboration,” he said.

The project was unveiled at Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth during a media event attended by a who’s who of Fort Worth and highlighted by the official signing of a memorandum of understanding by officials from both schools. The next step will be setting up a steering committee with representatives from both schools to develop plans for the new medical program. Then will come the hiring of a dean who will report to the provosts at both institutions and have an office on both campuses.

The two schools said they have commitments of over $75 million toward the project’s startup costs – $50 million from TCU donors and $25 million from UNTHSC donors.

“I’ve called everyone who had committed funds to us and it was unanimous,” said TCU’s Boschini. “From my experience with the people in Fort Worth, they usually come through.”

The UNT Health Science Center’s Board of Regents voted unanimously for the proposal on the morning of the announcement, while TCU’s Board of Trustees approved the plan on June 30.

For Williams, the move to create an MD school has been a goal since he became president in 2011. The UNTHSC had pursued an MD school previously, but was shut out by the Texas Legislature when budget cutbacks kept the state budget at a minimum.

The idea of an MD school at UNTHSC set off a firestorm among many current and future graduates of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 50 medical schools in the country for primary care.

Williams said they shouldn’t worry. “We will be committed to not reducing or diverting any resources from our existing programs, and looking for ways to enhance those as well,” he said.

Still, current TCOM students are looking for some assurances.

“Many of our primary concerns revolve around maintaining current resources, everything from library study space to clinical rotation sites in Fort Worth,” said Welch, a current student. “While there are more questions than answers at this point, we have to trust that our administration is considering our best interests and is pursuing this partnership with the intent to strengthen our educational opportunities as well.”

For TCU, the collaboration helps fulfill the school’s plans to strengthen its academic reputation after surging to national prominence on the strength of its high-profile football program.

“Part of our plan was to add more graduate students and increase the academic profile of TCU,” said Boschini. “This does both of those overnight. This will add 60 graduate students every year, 240 once it’s full.”

It’s not TCU’s first dance with a medical school. In 1911, it established the Fort Worth School of Medicine but disbanded it in 1918.

Neither Boschini nor Williams is worried about acceptance of the school among students.

“Our research has shown that of the last 10 medical schools that have started, they have all been full,” said Boschini.

Boschini said the Dell Medical School in Austin had over 2,000 applications for the 50-student class it plans to enroll in 2016, its initial year.

The new program could help TCU’s pre-med students land a spot in medical school, Boschini added.

“What I’ve noticed is that our pre-med students often can’t get in medical school because there isn’t room,” he said. “I know one student who waited 3 years to get in.”

For Dr. Dick Ellis, who wrote a history of Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and was the first pediatric surgeon in Tarrant County, the collaboration between the two schools represents a step forward for the city’s medical community.

“The school will present an opportunity to attract the more qualified students and, following graduation, to place them in a high quality postgraduate venue,” he said. “The opportunity to create an acclaimed Department of Pediatrics is especially appealing because of the presence of the large and highly developed Cook Children’s Medical Center. The leadership of the two intuitions is to be congratulated.”

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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