Renown, medical school team to recruit physicians

Renown Health and the University of Nevada Medical School are looking for ways to work together to recruit and retain more physicians to under-served northern Nevada.

The medical school and hospital have formed a 12-person steering committee to explore additional residency specialties as well as opportunities for partnering on research and funding. The strategy is to attract more physicians through residency openings and recruit and retain more with opportunities to teach, conduct research and perform clinical trials.

“Nevada is ranked 47th out of the 50 states in terms of the number of primary care physicians per 1,000 residents. That’s not a good position,” says Don Sibery, interim chief executive officer at Renown. “If Nevada is going to move up that ladder and get the physicians it needs, we need more residency spots.”

The reason residencies are key, says Sibery, is 70 percent of physicians end up settling down and practicing where they complete their post-degree training.

Renown currently has 66 residency positions in northern Nevada in three programs — psychiatry and internal and family medicine.

“For at least 15 years there has been a partnership between the school and Renown, but in talking with Dean Schwenk and the leadership and our staff and board of directors, we decided that for the good of the community, we need to do more than what we’ve been doing,” says Sibery. “With a new dean and a change in leadership at Renown, we felt like it was a good time to take a look at the partnership.”

Thomas Schwenk, M.D., was appointed dean of the medical school in February 2011. This past April, four of Renown’s top executives, including its longtime CEO, Jim Miller, left after the hospital’s board of directors determined the acquisition of Sierra Nevada Cardiology Associates in 2010 had been mishandled. The 14 physicians in the practice later filed suit against the hospital.

The plans being considered by the steering committee also may help reestablish better relations between the local physicians’ community and Renown, which created a physician-collaboration committee to help do that in the wake of the executive shakeup at the hospital.

The med school, too, is hoping to better connect with local doctors.

“The community physician population, most of whom are alumni, is the third leg of the stool,” says Schwenk. “We want to connect to that group more vigorously.”

To that end, the steering committee includes Tedd McDonald, M.D., a gynecologist/obstetrician with Banner Health in Fallon. Sibery, Schwenk, other members of the medical school and the hospital board, as well as Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, round out the committee. Bruce James, president and CEO of Nevada New-Tech Inc. is chairing the group.

The committee may start by defining a framework, including operating agreements, under which the hospital and school can collaborate, says Schwenk. After that, the partners may look at potential residency programs that could be supported by the case load in the community, areas of research and clinical trials that could be jointly conducted, teaching opportunities for local physicians and funding sources. Funding includes capital from Renown, federal and other research grants and philanthropic fund-raising.

Schwenk said the committee is slated to deliver it recommendations to the two institutions next spring.

Other groups concerned about a shortage of healthcare workers in northern Nevada were pleased to hear the medical school and Renown were working together to address the problem.

“Building a new medical school is not the solution,” says Pat Fling, executive director of Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada, a broad coalition of religious groups. “Residencies are what keep physicians here so we applaud this.”


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