The University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees voted Saturday to allow UVI President David Hall to move forward with the development phase of a medical school.
All trustees, present in UVI’s ACC Building in St. Thomas or via telephone, voted in favor of the approval, except for Jennifer Nugent-Hill and Donna Frett-Gregory, who were absent from the meeting.
“The development stage will involve us coming up with a curriculum, a budget, a fuller understanding of the accreditation process for becoming an accredited medical school,” Hall said.
UVI trustees also unanimously authorized Hall to sign a gift agreement with Chirinjeev Kathuria of New Generation Power, the same company with which UVI signed a purchase power agreement for its solar panel project. According to Hall, Kathuria’s gift is largely what will fund the development phase of the med school.
“After we signed the solar energy agreement, I met with him to talk about other ways in which he could support the University, and out of all the things I mentioned to him, the medical school was the key,” said Hall.
The amount of the major gift will be disclosed Friday at a ceremony at Government House.
Hall said the idea for a medical school for the university came during his first year as UVI president, when a local physician approached him with the notion. The physician raised a point that piqued Hall’s interest: the idea that UVI could be the only English-speaking Caribbean university that can be accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
The Liaison Committee is considered by the U.S. Department of Education as a reliable authority on accrediting schools offering programs leading toward a medical degree. Its accreditations are kept only within the United States and its territories.
“Puerto Rico has accredited schools but of course the instruction is done in Spanish, so we would be the only one,” explained Hall. “And that intrigued me because it showed that we could have a market advantage over the other medical schools.”
The physician also said, according to Hall, that there was going to be a future shortage of physicians, and Hall said he has “since come to understand how great that shortage is going to be.”
Hall said that UVI did a feasibility study as part of its strategic plan, and that it came back indicating that “there was a need, that we should move forward.” UVI, however, had been working mainly through Boston University, sending qualified students to complete medical degrees there, because it did not have the resources to pursue the field independently, a situation Kathuria’s gift remedies.
Hall said the university’s most optimistic dates for accepting the first students into the medical school is 2016 to 2017.
“It is an aggressive timeframe,” said Hall, adding that it is driven by accreditors. “During our first meeting with the accreditors, they may say to us, ‘That’s too aggressive,’ and we may have to push it back.”
Additional funding continues to be concern, although Hall said the board of trustees would not have authorized him to move forward with the development stage “if they didn’t feel we were close.”
“But I would be the first to say, we’re not there yet,” said Hall, adding that Kathuria’s gift will not be enough to take the project to the finish line. “We’re going to need other donors to join him, and make up the difference. That’s why we need to go public, because people need to know how they can support to make this a reality.”