The Dell Medical School’s partnership with the people of Austin and Travis County is unprecedented. The school would not exist without the support of its community.
As recently as 2012, Austin was the largest city in the country with a Tier One research university but without a medical school. That status owed largely to Texas politics in the late 1880s, when the legislature put Texas’ flagship university in the capital city of Austin but located the UT System’s medical branch in the then-booming city of Galveston.
Over the ensuing decades, the benefits of creating a medical school at a top-tier research institution became more and more clear. But it failed to gain traction — until the people of Austin and Travis County signed up as partners.
In 2011, state Senator Kirk Watson proposed building a UT Austin medical school as the centerpiece of 10 community health-related goals to achieve in 10 years. The medical school would directly benefit the community by improving physical, behavioral and economic health across Austin and Travis County. The return on the community’s investment would be initiatives, physicians, students and spin-off economic development that combined to make Austin a model healthy city.
Persuaded by this vision, voters in 2012 passed Proposition 1 by a 55-45 percent margin, and local property tax revenue now comprises a substantial portion of the medical school’s budget — making this the only medical school in the country that relies so heavily on locally generated tax revenue. That creates a profound relationship between Dell Medical School and the community — the school has both the responsibility to help create a vital, inclusive health ecosystem in Austin and Travis County, but also the opportunity to create truly innovative models in partnership with the community that can provide an example to the nation.
Travis County’s unprecedented investment presents an incredible opportunity to rethink the role of academic medicine in improving health: