Dell Medical School welcomes inaugural class

Anusha Lalani

The new Dell Medical School welcomed its inaugural class of 50 students Sunday, 135 years after UT’s founding.

In 1881, Texans voted to have the main university in Austin while building the medical school in Galveston, the state’s largest city at the time. The initiative to bring a medical school to Austin came from state Senator Kirk Watson in 2011, who created a plan involving the University, Central Health — a health care provider to uninsured and underinsured residents and a taxing authority that uses local and federal funds to create health care services — and Seton Healthcare Family, a Catholic nonprofit health care system. Together, the three organizations aim to provide healthcare to low-income people in Austin.

In 2012, Travis County voters helped push Watson’s plan forward when they approved a proposition to raise property taxes in support of health care initiatives for Central Texas, including $35 million annually for a medical school.

Inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School, Clay Johnston, said the school is different than other medical schools because it is the first new school to be created at a top-tier university in decades. Additionally, everything about the school — from the curriculum to its mission statement — has been created from scratch over the last three years.

Johnston said the partnership between the University, Central Health and Seton are vital because the school is a start-up institution.

“We simply cannot create the transformative changes we envision without a strong connection both to vulnerable communities and to clinical programs that provide health care access to those communities,” Johnston said. “Our partnerships allow for those connections, and they enable our vision of creating a vital, inclusive health ecosystem in Central Texas.”

Eleven departments and institutes are a part of the school, ranging from internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, neurology and more. Residency programs and fellowships are also available to students in their chosen specialities.

Jessica Reynoso, one of the students in the inaugural class, said her decision to attend the school was based on the opportunities the school will provide her.  

“The largest factor in my decision to attend Dell was that the mission of the school, and the passion of all the faculty that I met in my interview here resonated with me in a way that didn't happen elsewhere,” Reynoso said. “I love the idea of learning about healthcare on both micro and macro levels and what my role can be, so that when I am caring for people my care goes beyond that simple office visit. I believe going to Dell is going to expose me to these ideas and education unlike anywhere else.”

Amber Dunbar, another student in the inaugural class, said she likes how the school is helping the students provide more services back to the community.

“I love that the city voted to increase its taxes to help fund this school,” Dunbar said. “I think that such a partnership will enable Dell Med to be extremely successful and to help Austin, an already vibrant, unique and amazing city, become its best self through its unique healthcare mission.”

To commemorate the opening of the start-up institution, a time capsule is set to go into the wall of Dell Seton Medical Center. The capsule will include letters from Watson, Jesus Garza, Seton president and chief executive officer and Christann Vasquez, president of Dell Seton Medical Center at UT and University Medical Center Brackenridge.

Along with the letters, audio recordings of Brackenridge employees and photos of the medical center during construction, UMC Brackenridge and the Daughters of Charity, who founded Seton, will be in capsule as well. To demonstrate the change Dell Medical School hopes to accomplish, disease demographics and population statistics of present-day Austin will be included also. Mayor Steve Adler’s proclamation will also be included in the capsule, marking the day the capsule is opened as “Seton Healthcare Family Day.”