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'A team sport': Intermountain gives U. med school $15M for new building

SALT LAKE CITY — Every year, the University of Utah trains 125 new doctors, 44 physicians assistants, more than 1,000 nurses, dentists, physical therapists, dietitians and other health care providers, according to the school.

However, school officials say, their current 52-year-old medical school building is "seismically unsound and must be torn down in the coming years."

Amid what U. School of Medicine Executive Dean A. Lorris Betz calls an impending "critical physician shortage" in Utah, this is a problem.

To help the university continue to train future doctors and combat the state's shortage, Intermountain Healthcare is stepping in with a gift of $15 million toward a new School of Medicine building.

"The medical community is all going to benefit from this gift, but more importantly, the patients we serve will. We're gonna be training the next generation of clinicians, and we're training them in an environment of teamwork and collaboration which increasingly is how health care is delivered," said Intermountain Healthcare President and CEO Dr. Marc Harrison.

"It's a team sport," he added.

As officials announced the gift in the Intermountain Simulation Center on the U. campus Friday, a current medical student talked about how the next generation of medical students will benefit.

"It's gonna provide us a place to really learn and innovate and build a community among medical students. Right now, we don't have our own building, which I think fragments us a little bit. I think bringing us all together will really improve our educational experiences," said Anna Cassell, a second-year medical student at the U.

"I think it will also be a great way to continue to draw top, talented medical students from around the country. So this is going to be a real selling point," she added.

Cassell, from Salt Lake City, said she didn't know whether she would return to Utah after finishing her undergraduate degree. However, "all the innovation that the University of Utah is doing" drew her to the school.

After the announcement, university staff members showcased some of the innovations mentioned by Cassell inside the Intermountain Simulation Center, which was provided by an earlier partnership between the U. and Intermountain Healthcare.

In the center, medical students are able to train with patient actors as well as animatronic manikins. One manikin named Noelle even gives students the chance to participate in interactive simulation training as she delivers a baby.

University of Utah President David W. Pershing said Intermountain's decision to "support the new education building" demonstrates the "friendship" and collaboration between the two institutions.

"This gift will have a lasting impact for decades to come, as we strive to provide the very best in medical education for our students," he said.

Construction on the new University of Utah School of Medicine building is expected to cost $185 million and to begin in 2019. It is planned to be completed in 2022, officials said.