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Texas House signs off on medical schools for Sam Houston State, University of Houston

The schools still need approval from the Texas Senate.

State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, on the House floor on April 4, 2019.

The Texas House approved two new medical schools in Texas this week, one at Sam Houston State University and the other at the University of Houston.

The decisions bring both universities' plans for medical schools one step closer to reality, though both still need Senate approval. The Sam Houston State enabling legislation — House Bill 2867 by Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, and Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress — was approved Thursday, but it will still need final approval on what is called the third reading from the House. That third reading is usually just a formality.

Both bills were approved by wide margins.

"This is a very smart solution to an ongoing problem that we have in Texas, which is a shortage of primary care physicians in the rural parts of our state," Oliverson said after the vote. "Sam [Houston State]'s medical school is geared to deal precisely with that particular problem."

Texas already has a dozen medical schools. Programs at UH and Sam Houston State will grow the number of schools in the Houston area, the Texas region with the highest concentration. And if the two schools open, they'll join relatively new schools from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the Texas Tech University System and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

State Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, on the House floor on April 4, 2019.

That explosion in new schools — and a shortage of medical residencies for medical school graduates in Texas — has prompted skepticism by some higher education leaders. Last fall, the nine-member Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted 5-4 in favor of the proposal for a school of osteopathic medicine from Sam Houston State. The board unanimously approved UH's plan.

When the House approved the UH school Monday, the authors of the bill establishing it nodded to that concern.

“The University of Houston College of Medicine will address the need for more primary care physicians in Texas, but just as important, they are creating new residency slots for medical students,” said state Rep. John Zerwas, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “Ultimately, we’ll be able to keep more doctors in Texas, which will improve the health of our state, especially in underserved communities.”

In his support for the Sam Houston State school, meanwhile, Oliverson pointed to studies that show a high percentage of osteopathic doctors choosing to practice primary care. He said this is especially important, considering how some communities in Texas suffer acutely with access-to-care issues.

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, speaks to pages on the House floor on April 4, 2019.

The campus for the Sam Houston State school will be in Conroe, 40 miles north of Houston.

The House has also included $20 million in its budget for the UH school. The college will ask for another $20 million over the next eight years, according to Chris Stipes, a university spokesman. Sam Houston State is planning to open its school without state funding.

Both schools are also working through the accreditation process.

Disclosure: The University of Houston, Sam Houston State University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the University of North Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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