Dr. Andrew Priest’s Nevada Roots and Commitment to a Healthy Population Guide His Vision at Touro University Nevada
As Dr. Andrew Priest cultivates his new role as Touro University Nevada’s Campus President and Provost, his institutional vision remains driven by a deep desire to improve the quality of life for residents in the Silver State and beyond.
“I’m here to help keep our health care professions alive so we have new generations of health care providers to take care of more and more people,” he said. “I’ve attended a Mormon school and a Baptist school, and I have worked at a Catholic school, and now a Jewish school. One of the common threads I’ve seen across these institutions is the desire to serve humanity. Service to humanity is critical.”
His commitment to Touro and the Southern Nevada community is unwavering, grounded in familial roots that were planted during the Great Depression when his grandfather moved his grandmother and their family from El Paso, Tex. to the waning, rural mining town of Searchlight.
Made famous by the state’s most famous son, the late U.S. Senator Harry Reid, Searchlight is a former boom town located 40 miles south of Boulder City in the barren Nevada desert.
By the time James Priest, Dr. Priest’s father, moved to Searchlight as a 5-year-old in 1932, the thrill of the turn-of-the-century gold rush had subsided in the area as people began to leave the town en masse.
"My dad’s family was dirt poor,” Dr. Priest recalled. “They didn’t have electricity, so at night they would go into their car to listen to the radio as a form of entertainment.”
The Priests stayed in Searchlight until 1940 when they moved to Las Vegas. James Priest would go on to graduate from Las Vegas High School as a 16-year-old in 1943 before enlisting to fight in the U.S. Army during World War II. He stayed in the military following the war and retired after 30 years of service.
Dr. Priest still owns the rifle his dad used to shoot rabbits with as a kid when the family needed food to eat during the Depression. In his office, he keeps his father’s leather-bound high school diploma, where it serves as a gentle reminder of his family origins and the authentic connection, a quasi-obligation, he feels to the state of Nevada and the people who live here.
“If my dad had never joined the Army, there’s a good chance he would have stayed here,” Dr. Priest said. “I have roots here, and my dad was always proud of where he came from.”
James Priest’s military career eventually took him to England, where Dr. Priest was born. A veteran of the U.S. Army himself, Dr. Priest has lived in 16 locations throughout his life, including in South America where he spent two years in Chile serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
For most of his career, Dr. Priest has been a practicing physical therapist and educational administrator. Wherever he has gone, helping people has always been the priority.
“I want to help take care of people so they can live their best lives,” he said. “One of the reasons I love Touro so much is because we can create means for our students and faculty to do more outreach. We’re helping people, no matter their circumstances, to live their best lives.”
Before arriving at Touro University Nevada in 2012 as Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Dr. Priest served as Director of the Physical Therapy Program at Clarke University, a small Catholic School located in Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest city.
Following academic educational stints in the South and the Midwest, Dr. Priest charted a path out West, choosing to pursue an opportunity in Southern Nevada, the same place his father was always proud to call home. As the city continued to grow, so did his role within the university.
After eight years as Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Dr. Priest was thrust into the role of University Provost when COVID-19 turned the world upside down. As the institution’s academic leader, Dr. Priest worked tirelessly with the university’s leadership and faculty to ensure Touro’s students could continue receiving a high-quality education in a mostly virtual world.
“It was a tough time because everything was still so uncertain,” he recalled. “One of the things I learned was that I didn’t have to be on call 24/7. For so long, I felt like I had to be on all the time and it nearly led to burnout. I learned that I could usually wait until the next day to get things done. We didn’t want anything to fail, especially during the early stages of the pandemic while we were navigating this new normal, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. It took me some time to realize that my routine wasn’t healthy.”
Since then, Dr. Priest has found and finessed his way to help guide Touro into the future. His inexorably dignified leadership style not only allowed Touro’s students to continue their education with a hybrid learning model, it helped provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to administer free COVID-19 screenings, tests, masks, and vaccines to Southern Nevada’s most vulnerable populations during a worldwide pandemic.
“At Touro University Nevada, our mission is to serve, to lead, and to teach. We bring the mission of Judaic values to the forefront,” he said. “When we are mentioned in the community, I want us to be known for doing medical outreach and for developing healthcare professionals to serve in Nevada. It is service to humanity. Whether we are educating a future physician or doing outreach, it is entrepreneurial and service-oriented. I envision our programs being a lot more active in delivering healthcare to the community and knowing that we can be the go-to university for any outreach.”
In July, Dr. Priest was named Touro’s Campus President and Provost, serving at the helm of one of the largest medical schools and health care professions institutions in the western United States.
After completing a decade of rapid growth that has seen the graduation of thousands of new physicians and health care professionals into the workforce and a multi-phase campus expansion to accommodate the university’s growing number of new students, Dr. Priest hopes Touro’s next chapter brings a period of steadfast congealment that allows for the institution to build upon the progress is has made both in the Southern Nevada community and across the country.
That includes keeping more physicians and health care professionals in a state desperate for their services.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100 graduates from Touro’s College of Osteopathic Medicine have stayed in Nevada to do their residencies. In 2022, the College of Osteopathic Medicine had 55 students alone match into residencies in Nevada.
The College of Osteopathic Medicine also worked tirelessly to be recognized with a 10-year accreditation extension, the best accreditation possible reserved for a handful of universities across the country. An accreditation extension of this magnitude will help attract the best and brightest students from all over.
That means more future doctors in the state to help alleviate Nevada’s need for physicians.
Touro’s School of Nursing also received 10-year accreditations for all four of its programs by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the best possible outcome they, too, could have achieved. These accreditation milestones reinforce Touro’s efforts to ensure that students have the tools and resources they need to excel as physicians and nurses in the workforce.
The university has enjoyed tremendous growth since opening as a new medical school to alleviate Nevada’s physician shortage in 2004. Since then, Touro has gone from a single class of 78 medical students to more than 1,500 students enrolled in a variety of programs including osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, education, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and medical health sciences.
Touro has also partnered with several organizations throughout Southern Nevada, including with the Engelstad Foundation and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to provide life-saving medical training and individual first aid kits to Metro officers and first responders. Metro leadership has attributed this partnership to saving numerous lives in the Las Vegas Valley.
The university is also home to the Michael Tang Regional Center for Clinical Simulation, the only accredited simulation center in the State of Nevada. In this space, Touro’s students are provided with an immersive simulation environment that offers hands-on learning opportunities that significantly enhance their medical education.
Physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals across the Las Vegas Valley have also utilized the Michael Tang Center to increase their knowledge and skills as they continue to provide the best possible patient care.
Even as Touro looks back on two decades of extraordinary progress that has led to hundreds of more physicians and health care professionals for the state of Nevada, Dr. Priest is reluctant to take his foot off the gas. As the Las Vegas Valley continues to grow, so must Touro.
“I want us to fortify what we already have,” he said. “Over the next 10 years, I can also see us expanding into areas that present market opportunities. What program could we start to help improve the efficiency or increase access to healthcare? Touro’s primary purpose is to educate more and more quality professionals and get more people to be seen by competent and compassionate health care providers.”
As the university continues its ascent into the future educating more doctors and health care professionals, Dr. Priest is never afraid to look back on how it used to be in Nevada, when his family first moved to Searchlight, desperate for an opportunity to succeed during one of the country’s darkest times.
While more than 3 million people call the state home, Dr. Priest still cherishes its small-town appeal. In his commitment to the health and wellbeing of all Southern Nevadans, he wants nothing more than to lead the charge as Touro continues to educate enough health care professionals to meet the demanding needs of a flourishing population.
“There is a real sense of community here, and if we can keep more of our graduates in Nevada, we’ll be able to make a massive impact on our community,” he said. “That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”About Touro Nevada