Legislators question need for new medical schools

Two new medical schools are opening in Florida next year and some in the state legislature and the State University System are questioning the decision.

Florida International University and the University of Central Florida medical schools are scheduled to begin classes in fall 2009, which looks to be another tight budget year. State representative Ed Homan, R-Tampa, and Michael Hoad, USF vice president of communications and marketing, have both said they believe the state is short on funding and that the funds the state is using to build new medical schools would be better spent on residency programs for existing medical schools.

“I think we have enough schools,” Homan said. “What we need is more funding for more residencies, that’s where you get more bang for your buck.”

Many students go into a residency program after completing medical school. A residency is a type of internship where students work under the supervision of experienced physicians for five to seven years, in order to learn a more specialized form of medicine such as anesthesiology or dermatology. Homan said that residents aren’t paid much but they are able to work and they usually settle wherever they complete their residency.

Hoad said that an increase in state support for residency programs was a better way to fill Florida’s need for more physicians.

“The significant problem we have in Florida is that Florida got into setting up residency programs late compared with northeastern states,” he said. “We just don’t have the residencies you see up north.”

Hoad went on to say that USF has been working with state representative Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, to introduce a bill that would increase funding to state residency programs.

UCF spokeswoman Zenaida Kotala said the medical school being built in Orlando was necessary, adding that UCF received the approval of the state legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist, as well as the support of the local medical community.

There’s still the question of how the state is going to fund the new schools. The Lakeland Ledger reports that FIU and UCF, in addition to the recently built medical school at Florida State University, will cost the state $500 million over the next ten years.

Homan questioned the amount of funding being contributed to these schools. He said the state does not have the funding to maintain the medical schools it already has, much less the amount of money needed to fund and maintain two new schools.

“There’s no money just to stay flat,” he said. “We don’t print money here, the state constitution says we have to balance the budget.”

Hoad said that he thought it was unfortunate that these new schools will be built in a year of extreme budget cuts.

“My bottom line is that there is a legitimate need for physicians and there is a real need for specialists – it’s unfortunate for those schools and existing ones that this occurs during the most substantial budget crisis in the history of higher education in Florida.”

Kotala said she believed constructing a medical school at UCF would not harm the other universities in Florida. She said that UCF was developing a unique program that would build on the qualities the university as a whole has already developed.

“The combination will be attractive to some students just as the program of other schools will be attractive to others,” she said. “Rather than compete, together, all four medical schools will increase access to students in Florida. And we will give students more choices about what kind of program they want to pursue.”