University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on Friday announced his intention to establish a freestanding medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
"The year 2018 will be a very special year for all of us," Cigarroa said at a press conference in Edinburg. "I take great pride in telling you it will be the year the UT System witnesses its first South Texas class walk across the stage to receive their medical degrees here in the Rio Grande Valley."
The plan is to convert the existing UT Health Science Center-San Antonio's Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg into a medical school with its own administration.
In a statement, UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell said the change would provide a major boost to the region's health care infrastructure. "Nationally, more than 70 percent of physicians typically end up practicing medicine in the same region where they graduated," he said. "We must do everything possible to ensure we provide excellent medical education opportunities to our students in South Texas."
The new school's first anticipated graduates — the class of 2018 — will begin their studies at UT Health Science Center-San Antonio in 2014 on a special "South Texas" track. If everything goes according to plan, in 2016 they will move down to the transitioning medical school in Edinburg, where they will complete their third and fourth years and work in regional clerkships. Those students will graduate under the accreditation of the institution in San Antonio that initially admitted them.
In his remarks, Cigarroa noted that significant funds from the system have already been invested in this effort, and that he intends to request more from the Legislature in the upcoming session. "We will also need to rely on generous philanthropy and support from local hospitals, businesses and community organizations as occurs in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Galveston," he aid.
Medical schools and health science centers throughout the state are preparing for major changes. The Texas Tech University System is converting the El Paso campus of its health science center into a separate university. The University of North Texas and Texas A&M University are contemplating absorbing the health science centers in their respective systems. In Austin, efforts are under way to build a medical school that would be a part of the University of Texas at Austin.
South Texas leaders have been pushing for a medical school in the underserved region for a long time. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, responded to today's news, saying, “South Texas is home to fast growing communities with unjust healthcare disparities — we are undoubtedly the part of Texas most in need of a medical school. By committing to graduating students by 2018, UT has given everyone in South Texas reason to celebrate."