Board of Regents to build medical school in Lower Rio Grande Valley

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UT System Board of Regents allocated a part of a $30 million fund last week to build a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley area to provide education and training for medical students.

The process will enhance the medical education capabilities of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, a city in the valley. The center is associated with the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, but does not have the resources to educate medical students all four years. Francisco González-Scarano, dean of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, said the students currently studying at the RAHC volunteer to study in that area.

“They want to be taking care of the people in the valley,” González-Scarano said.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley residents don’t have adequate medical services available in the area, and the addition of a medical school would bring more medical professionals and attention to the needs of the people, said González-Scarano.

There are currently about 40 students studying at the RAHC, he said, and with the development of the medical school, 220 students will be able to rotate per year. As plans for the medical school are underway, the RAHC will establish partnerships with local hospitals to retain graduates and help improve medical attention for residents of the area.

“We need to ensure that there are enough post-medical school spots,” he said.

UT-Brownsville President Juliet García said part of the $30 million fund will also go toward moving the institution to a four-year college from a community college. The fund will allow UT-Brownsville to make improvements to the School of Public Health — furthering the efforts to provide adequate medical services to the people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“You know when you’re sitting in a classroom, and you have the right answer and you’re waving your hand?” García said. “It’s like we can do this. We just need the resources and we finally got picked.”

García said compared to Austin, Brownsville has half as many nurses and doctors per people.

“Anytime you improve higher education opportunities, you impact in a significant way the quality of life in a community,” García said.

UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the medical school will work together in joint endeavors to provide people with medical services in the valley. García said these plans are in line with Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s framework to increase financial and educational productivity at UT System institutions.

“He wants to be able to leverage all three institutions toward one goal,” García said.

Cigarroa’s framework left open future possibility of a UT medical school in Austin and in general called for a focus on the health of Texans. Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said in a press release that he will come up with a plan within the next month to further medical education, health care and bioscience for UT.

“An advanced medical education and research initiative, growing alongside and in partnership with University of Texas System institutions, represents almost limitless opportunity for Central Texans’ economy, health and quality of life,” Watson wrote.

UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. said in a statement the University has been working to increase medical education in Austin for more than five years. This includes the creation of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute, a new department in Biomedical Engineering and increased residencies through Seton Hospitals.

“We need to be careful about getting solid funding in place to continue these steps, but they are the necessary ones to establish a medical school here,” Powers said.

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Board of Regents appropriates money to build medical school.