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ECU’s medical school battles budget cuts

ECU’s chancellor once said it could close, but clarified his remarks.

The school is one of two public medical schools in North Carolina, along with UNC School of Medicine. Like public universities, a significant portion of both schools’ funding comes from the state, and state support has continuously dropped since the recession — impacting ECU’s school more due to its smaller size.

Brody School of Medicine’s revenues were $267 million in 2014, compared to UNC School of Medicine’s $1.1 billion.

But ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard clarified in a Feb. 10 statement that the medical school wouldn’t be closing.

Ballard said the state paid for 53 percent of the school’s budget in 1990 compared to just 21 percent today. Last year, the school saw $14 million in cuts to its state support.

Chapel Hill hasn’t escaped cutbacks either.

“When we move state support, we either have to cut programs or find new sources of support,” said Karen McCall, spokeswoman for UNC School of Medicine. “During the years when the cuts are made those transitions are very difficult.”

Despite the cuts, Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said ECU has not allowed them to become a setback.

“We have not had to reduce admissions, and we have been very careful to shelter the Brody School academic experience for our students,” Cunningham said.

One major difference between the schools is the relationship they have with their respective hospitals, according to a UNC Board of Governors report from October. Brody has an affiliation agreement with Vidant Medical Center, a private hospital nearby. UNC’s school is a primary partner with UNC Health Care.

The report said that most top-performing and financially sound medical schools are under the same umbrella as the hospital they work with — unlike ECU’s school.

Kevin FitzGerald, chief of staff for the UNC system, presented the report in October and said the differences between the schools and hospital affiliations affect funding.

“UNC is a larger school in terms of number of students and is recognized for its level of research as well as training for primary care,” FitzGerald said. “ECU is a newer medical school. Its focus is on providing primary care physicians to remain in N.C., and it is very well regarded for doing that.”

The report stated that 54 percent of Brody graduates practice medicine in the state, compared to only 44 percent of those from UNC-CH.

FitzGerald said he and schools across the state are joining ECU to advocate for more state funding for the Brody School of Medicine.

“Brody is much more dependent upon state support than UNC, but both schools are working hard to diversify their revenue and ongoing state support is very important,” he said.

Brody is looking for the financial assets to continue the legacy it has established in eastern North Carolina, Cunningham said.

“All of our students in the Brody School of Medicine are from North Carolina,” he said. “That is a commitment that was made at the introduction of the school.”

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