Officials meet to discuss med school in Lafayette

by Walter Pierce

"I know two things: We need more doctors. No. 2, they're not just going to fall from heaven - we've got to grow them."

About 50 government officials, civic leaders and representatives of Lafayette health care sector met Wednesday morning at City Hall to discuss the feasibility of establishing a medical school in Lafayette. The meeting was arranged by City-Parish President Joey Durel and included Dr. Larry Hollier, chancellor of LSU Health Sciences Center, and state Treasurer John Kennedy, who in March penned an editorial arguing that Lafayette is the ideal location for Louisiana's fourth medical school. (LSU operates two med schools - in Shreveport and New Orleans - and Tulane University in New Orleans has the third.)

State Treasurer John Kennedy

Speaking with The IND following the meeting, Kennedy says a medical school in Lafayette would be dedicated to turning out primary-care physicians. The treasurer says Lafayette is ideal because it has the health care infrastructure to build a new medical school cheaply.

"Obviously it's got to be located somewhere. In my judgment Lafayette is the appropriate place -  we have a medical school in north Louisiana and we have two in southeast Louisiana," he says. "I think the other reason that Lafayette is the appropriate venue is we could do it cheaper than we could anywhere else. No. 1, we have what I call the hospital infrastructure - we already have a teaching hospital with Lafayette General; but we also have Lady of Lourdes, the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana, we have Women's [and Children's] Hospital; we have a very sophisticated and well-trained medical community. And why is that important? Well, we have the faculty already in place to teach.

"The medical community has indicated a pretty strong desire to teach - most of them. We also have a top-flight university right there in place at UL, so they would certainly be a part of this."

Kennedy says talk in the past of establishing a fourth medical school was scuttled due to turf wars between various cities and universities. Cities want medical schools for economic development; universities want them for prestige. None wants a rival city or university to get what it believes it deserves.

Right now the prospect of a fourth state medical school in Lafayette is very preliminary, Kennedy says: "In order for this to work we're going to have other meetings to try to put some meat on this bone. In order for this to work it will require the support of the medical community in Lafayette, but it's also going to require the support of the business community. The [business] community has got to support this; it's a challenging endeavor but it's certainly do-able. I would say of the 50 people there probably half made comments - we were in there a pretty good while - and they were all positive comments."

In his March editorial, which was published online at, Kennedy cites a number of factors he argues underscore the need for that additional medical center:

? 28 percent of Louisiana's physicians are 60 or older; 19 percent are under 40.

? LSU New Orleans, LSU Shreveport and Tulane-graduate roughly 450 doctors a year.

? In 2012, 108 out of 171 graduates of LSU Medical School in New Orleans remained in Louisiana. At Tulane, only 35 of 177 medical school graduates remained in Louisiana.

? Across the U.S., 29 new medical schools have opened in the last 20 years.

? The University of Mississippi College of Medicine underwent a major expansion in 2013.

"I know two things: We need more doctors. No. 2, they're not just going to fall from heaven - we've got to grow them, and to do it we need another med school," Kennedy says. "This would be a big plus for Southwest Louisiana. It would mean a lot economically to Southwest Louisiana. But we need the business community to step up and support this as well. I think the medical community is there as well, but we need the civic leaders and the business leaders, too."

A spokeswoman for Kennedy's office emailed The IND later Tuesday to say that if all goes according to plan, a medical school would open in Lafayette "in 2016 or 2017."

To read Kennedy's full column from March, click here.