What is an Academic Health Center? And Why Nevadans Deserve One


The development of a UNLV Academic Health Center will provide high-value quality care for the community, a source of economic diversity for our economy, and cutting-edge research.

Nevada has increased its population every year between 2010 and 2022 with 14 percent population growth in 2022. Unfortunately, Nevada’s health care infrastructure is woefully inadequate to support the population and ranks 44th for access to health care, 42nd in health outcomes, 45th in the number of physicians per 100,000, and 49th for the number of primary care and surgeons per capita.

Nevada also lags far behind in health services for vulnerable populations. For example, every state has a cleft palate and craniofacial health care services program except Alaska and Nevada.

In an effort to improve the state of health care in Nevada and, specifically,  Southern Nevada, UNLV has made the development of an academic health center (AHC) a strategic priority. An AHC, as defined by various national organizations, consists of an allopathic or osteopathic medical school, at least one other health profession school or program, and at least one affiliated or owned teaching hospital. AHCs are traditionally focused on providing the highest standards of clinical care and treating the most complex illnesses, conducting clinical, laboratory, and health sciences research, educating future health professionals, and engaging with the community. The terms academic health center (AHC) and academic medical center are often interchangeable, but because an AHC represents a medical school and other health professions, we prefer the term AHC at UNLV.

AHCs typically represent the concerted efforts of multiple universities, programs, and/or hospitals to improve the care of a community through research, education, patient care, and community engagement. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the university is at the core of an AHC, striving for excellence in education, community engagement, and research. AHC participation does not preclude member institutions from pursuing other outside partnerships.

Although AHCs account for only about 5 percent of all hospitals, they deliver a disproportionate amount of care for: 

  • Medicare and Medicaid patients
  • Uninsured individuals
  • Transfer of patients with complex needs
  • Trauma and burn patients
  • Cancer patients

With that breadth and depth of healthcare services an AHC brings to a community, the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV and its associated clinical practice, UNLV Health, are proud to partner with the UNLV schools of Nursing, Public Health, Dental Medicine, Integrative Health Sciences, the other UNLV behavioral health programs, and the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, (UMC), to provide Southern Nevada the AHC it deserves.

Together, we are focused on developing coordinated plans for education, community engagement, and research, while providing opportunities for collaboration, information sharing on best practices, and ongoing discussions of research directed at community needs. Interprofessional education programs continue to be expanded as we focus on improving care coordination.

Already, the UNLV AHC has obtained over $1 million of state appropriations to support its mission, and racked up over $11 million in research expenditures and $38 million in research awards. Together, we have produced over 320 publications per year and, in 2023, saw more than 230,000 clinical visits. Combined, approximately 630 students graduate annually from UNLV AHC programs. These programs also host an annual interprofessional education and practice day, with over 400 AHC student participants, and support 30+ team-based and interdisciplinary educational events annually. As an AHC, UNLV is championing innovative approaches to mental and behavioral health, as well as, physical well-being. This is demonstrated through our two community/school-based health care clinics established through a UNLV Health and Clark County School District partnership, our three UNLV community mental health training clinics, including the school of medicine’s center for individual, couple and family counseling, and the newly launched UNLV Community Clinic, established as a partnership between the school of medicine and the Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada.

The UNLV AHC continues to establish itself in the community, and is currently re-establishing a cleft palate and craniofacial team, expanding health care programs and graduate medical education opportunities, offering more collaboration opportunities, and increasing interdisciplinary research.

To have an AHC at UNLV is not only good for the university, it is good for the community and all of Nevada. That is why it has already received over $9 million in philanthropy annually. If you would like to support academic health or the school of medicine’s role in academic health, please reach out to our development and alumni relations department at 702-823-3705 or development@medicine.unlv.edu.