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Funding for UofA expansion in Phoenix will ease doctor shortage, aid economy

Arizona suffers from a critical shortage of physicians that is compounded by the downturn in national and state economies and the subsequent loss of many jobs. Five years ago, the Legislature took steps to address these issues by supporting the expansion of the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix.

Despite our successes, the project stands at a crossroad. Having produced its first graduating class, the school is poised to make an important developmental leap with the completion of the Health Sciences Education Building.

My colleagues in the Legislature endorsed the budget to construct the building in downtown Phoenix. This allows the university to expand its class sizes and bring other health science education programs to the campus. In addition to the College of Medicine expansion, there are plans to add programs to the colleges of Pharmacy and Public Health. Northern Arizona University is also set to start a physicians’ assistant program and will expand the physical therapy program at their campus.

The state must complete its commitment to training more health professionals to care for our citizens by funding the planned expansion as requested by the university. This $15 million request will pay innumerable dividends now and for years to come. It will do so not just by increasing the number of health care workers but also by increasing the amount of faculty, staff and research-based private spinoffs. According to a 2005 study by consulting firm Tripp Umbach, those spinoffs create a dramatic economic impact estimated to be at least $2.5 billion each year.

This appropriation will help the Phoenix campus realize part of its potential as the only medical school in the state’s largest city. Its effects will, however, be felt in every region of the state. To that point, many of the students enrolled are from rural Arizona and of those, many plan to return to establish practices in their hometowns.

The first 24 students of the program graduated in May. Sixteen chose to stay in Arizona and all of them are pursuing careers as primary care physicians. There are 190 students studying medicine on the campus. The school is poised to increase that class size with the additional space of the new education building set for completion this summer.

These students are training with national leaders in academic medicine. They have already made their mark by excelling on national exams and providing free health services to the local community and beyond.

Their classes are instructed by professors and researchers from the college focusing on advancements in medical research on devastating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and more. Through their collaborative efforts, they are tackling the challenging health care issues that face Arizona.

This appropriation will not only benefit the university system and the University of Arizona in particular, but all the residents of Arizona. I recently introduced HB2551, which the House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee heard and favorably passed. The legislation will restore funding for the expansion of health science education in downtown Phoenix. We want this funding included in the budget because it is vital to the future of health care services in our state.

This week, the Legislature took the first steps in the budget process. As a lawmaker, I know we have difficult fiscal decisions to make again this year. I personally want to make sure those decisions are made based on the long-term fiscal health of our state.

Arizona suffers from a significant lack of practicing physicians. At the same time, our economy and collective quality of life depends heavily on the research conducted in the Arizona’s medical facilities. This allocation signals the beginning of an age of improved health care for all Arizonans through stronger partnerships with hospitals, research centers and health organizations across the state.

— Republican Ted Vogt of Tucson represents Legislative District 30, which generally includes eastern Pima County and the city of Sierra Vista in Cochise County. He is also a member of the House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee.

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