Prominent businessman Tilman J. Fertitta and his family have pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine to ignite a new era of innovative and equitable health care in Houston and across Texas. In recognition of the legacy-defining support, the medical school is now named the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.
The longtime chairman of the UH System Board of Regents, Fertitta was instrumental in establishing the city of Houston’s first new medical school in nearly 50 years. Founded in 2019 on a distinct social mission to improve health and health care in underserved urban and rural communities where poor health outcomes are often more prevalent, the Fertitta Family College of Medicine educates students to provide compassionate, high-value care (high quality at reasonable cost), with a focus on primary care and other needed physician specialties. Building on the University’s legacy of excellence as a Tier One research institution, interdisciplinary research involving the community and other disciplines at UH will propel improvements in patient care and health.
The gift will help address the state’s critical primary care physician shortage, especially in low-income and underserved communities, attract renowned scholars focused on health care innovation and establish support for the college and its faculty to pursue clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health, behavioral health, community engagement and the social determinants of health.
“Our family has such a passion for this medical school and its pursuit of health equity so everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, zip code or socioeconomic status, has the same opportunity to be as healthy as possible,” said Fertitta. “My hope is that the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine will be a game changer for the health and well-being of Texans by improving access to quality health care, advancing medical knowledge and improving patient care through health and health care research.”
Fertitta Family $50 Million Gift Breakdown:
- $10 million funds five endowed chairs for faculty hires who are considered national stars in their fields with a focus on health care innovation. This portion of the gift will be matched one-to-one as part of the University’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, doubling the endowed principal to $20 million.
- $10 million establishes an endowed scholarship fund to support endowed graduate research stipends/fellowships for medical students.
- $10 million will cover start-up costs for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to enhance research activities including facilities, equipment, program costs and graduate research stipends/fellowships.
- $20 million will create the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research-enhancing activities.
The gift officially launches a $100 Million fundraising campaign for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to support scholarships, faculty recruitment and operational needs for equipment, programs, student success initiatives and more. University of Houston President Renu Khator hopes the gift will inspire others to consider contributing to Houston’s newest “crown jewel.”
“Tilman Fertitta and his family have made a visionary investment, so it is only fitting this new, ambitious and forward-thinking medical school should bear the Fertitta name. It will have a remarkable and lasting impact on Houston and the world. Thanks to the Fertitta family’s amazing generosity, the financial security and longevity of the medical school is cemented for generations to come,” said UH President Renu Khator.
Fertitta is the sole owner, president and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment which owns the restaurant giant Landry’s, the Golden Nugget casinos and hotels, and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. He is considered one of the foremost authorities in the restaurant, gaming, entertainment and hospitality industries and is a New York Times best-selling author, while also leading numerous civic boards in Houston.
He has served on the UHS Board of Regents since 2009, was elected chairman in 2014 and has served ever since. Last year the governor reappointed him to the Board for another six-year term. In 2016, Fertitta donated $20 million, the largest individual donation ever to UH Athletics, to help transform the UH basketball arena into a modern-day sports venue now called the Fertitta Center.
“Tilman Fertitta is a visionary leader and staunch advocate of the University of Houston, evidenced by his remarkable commitment that will bring our medical school to national prominence and the forefront of medical education,” said Dr. Stephen J. Spann, founding dean of the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. “Naming a medical school is a rare opportunity that not only creates lasting momentum for the University, but more importantly, ensures people who desperately need access to health care get it.”
Last year, the Fertitta Family College of Medicine became an official member of the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world. It will have an estimated regional economic impact of $377 million by 2029 and will expand health-related research at the University of Houston by an estimated 400% over the next 30 years. To help support and guide its operations, key partnerships have been forged with HCA Houston Healthcare, Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and others.
“With this gift to the medical school, we not only want to improve the lives of Texans, but also help propel the University of Houston to the upper echelon of public universities in the nation,” said Fertitta.
Filling the Gap
Mistrust in the medical system among marginalized communities, and other factors including poverty, have contributed to a gap in access to health care nationwide. By addressing the societal factors that affect their patients’ health – such as food insecurity, the environment, employment and housing – doctors trained at UH will help eliminate health disparities and create a more equitable health care system.
A significant shortage of primary care physicians also contributes to that gap – Texas ranks 47th in the nation for active primary care physicians. There will be an estimated shortage of 3,375 full-time equivalent (FTE) primary care physicians in 2030, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
An analysis by the American Public Media Research Lab in 2021 found 249 of Texas’ 254 counties have areas of shortages of primary care physicians. In 228 of them, the entire county has a shortage, nearly double the amount observed in 2019.
To address this troubling trend, the Fertitta Family College of Medicine aims for at least half of its graduates to choose to practice primary care, when only about 20% of medical students do so nationwide. The intended impact is improved health outcomes for our communities resulting in decreased sick time, increased productivity, lower medical costs and better quality of life.
Bolstering the ethnic diversity of the physician workforce to ensure that it reflects the population is another priority. Of the 60 students in the medical school’s first two classes, 67% are from underrepresented groups in medicine and more than half come from a low socioeconomic background. In contrast, only 13% of all students accepted to U.S. medical schools are Black or Hispanic/Latino. At full enrollment within the decade, the college will have 480 students.
The vision to transform population health and health care equity starts near the UH campus in Houston’s East End and Third Ward. These communities have some of the poorest health outcomes in Harris County. The medical school has established community working groups comprised of community-based organizations, health care and social service providers, churches and other community members, which meet monthly to ensure a collective approach to community health and well-being.
The college’s innovative curriculum emphasizes community and population health, primary care, behavioral and mental health, and preventive medicine. Students are consistently and longitudinally exposed to primary care settings and practice. For example, the Household-Centered Care program pairs an interprofessional student team with a family living in an underserved community throughout the four years of the curriculum. Also, because of the significant need to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural areas, students are required to participate in a four-week clinical learning experience in rural Texas.
Medical student and native Houstonian Jalyce Taylor, a member of the college’s inaugural class, is passionate about becoming a physician who will address health disparities because members of her family live in medically underserved communities.
“I have an opportunity as a physician to provide equitable care to people and to be the change that I want to see in this society,” said Taylor.
Since last fall, the college has also launched two community-based medical clinics staffed by faculty physicians. The Family Care Center on the UH campus offers affordable, comprehensive primary care and behavioral health services to anyone, regardless of income, residency status, employment, health insurance coverage or ability to pay. A sliding fee scale is available according to household size and income.
In Southwest Houston, where nearly one in three people live below the federal poverty level and the uninsured rate is five times higher than the rest of the nation, the college operates a direct primary care clinic on the campus of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital. Patients receive broad spectrum primary care services for a flat membership fee of $60 per month, expanding access to care for the uninsured.
New Building Opening Soon
The first two classes of 60 medical students are currently taking classes in the Health 2 building on campus, the medical school’s temporary home until construction on a new $80 million building is completed this summer.
The three-story, 130,000-square-foot building is located on 43-acres of previously undeveloped campus land that will be part of a future life sciences complex along Martin Luther King Boulevard. The building will feature a state-of-the-art anatomy suite, clinical skills lab, patient examination rooms, simulation center, large team-based learning classrooms, small group meeting rooms, faculty and administrative offices and dedicated social and study spaces.
“I am so thrilled with everything our medical school has accomplished in such a short period of time and truly believe this is only the beginning of the transformational impact it will have on so many Texas communities,” said Fertitta.