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Addressing doctor shortage as Las Vegas population grows

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Posted at 1:49 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 11:56:43-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — There’s a lot of professions that are necessary to keep our health care system running: Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical assistants and the list goes on.

For the purposes of this story, we’re focusing on physicians and the lack thereof in Southern Nevada.

It’s a problem acknowledged by Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of the new Kirk Kerkorian UNLV school of medicine.


“Unfortunately, with the growth in population we have not had growth in healthcare providers,” Kahn said.

A 2019 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges shows Nevada has 213 doctors per 100,000 residents. That ranks our state No. 46 out of 51.

How many doctors do we need per 100,000 residents? That depends on who you talk to. If we wanted to be in the top tier in the country, that number would need to double.

“The only specialty that approaches national norms is plastic surgery, so everything else is actually deficient,” Kahn added.

Mason VanHouweling is CEO of the University Medical Center. It's home to the first and only level one trauma center in southern Nevada. He says the need for doctors is made worse by pandemic burnout, so they’re working hard to keep morale up and retain the talent already here.

“It’s a challenge every day to be able to staff and take care of the patients that we do here at UMC but all hospitals not only in the state but nationwide, so it’s a very tight labor pool,” VanHouweling said.

VanHouweling says UMC takes in many residents and fellows from local universities, but at the pace our population is growing, it’s not enough. The hospital recruits nationally as well.

“We’ve got great partnerships with all the academic institutions and they’re working very hard, but the demand that we’re seeing in hospitals, in particular, is outpacing the growth of the education of the students,” VanHouweling said.

The UNLV Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine is the newest hope in bringing the next generation of doctors to southern Nevada. The new campus should be ready for students by the summer of 2022.

“Our mission at the school of medicine is to care for our community and part of that is producing the doctors for the future. We absolutely look for doctors who have a connection to Las Vegas and look for medical students who want to stay in Las Vegas," Kahn said.

Thirty-six percent of the first graduating class stayed in Nevada. Kahn says they need to make that number much higher in the future.

He plans to do so by expanding residency options and working towards having scholarship aids, meaning students can work to pay off tuition debt if they stay in Southern Nevada.

“After all we’re here to improve health care, but we’re also here to diversify our economy with high-paying jobs, medical technology, device development, etc. And we’re going to make a difference,” Kahn said.