AUSTIN, Texas – Together with The University of Texas System Board of Regents, I am deeply committed to enhancing education, health, economic development and quality of life in the Rio Grande Valley.
One of the highest priorities of my tenure as chancellor has been to make a marked improvement on the health of the people of Texas. And to particularly make a difference where there is great need in South Texas.
We know that establishing a school of medicine as part of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is a game-changing, history-making move that will impact the region in countless ways for the betterment of generations to come.
The case for a medical school is an easy one to make: It is an undisputable fact that Texas needs more physicians. Our state has more patients vying for the attention of fewer doctors than nearly every other state in the country. We rank 42nd in the number of doctors per population, and the shortage in the Rio Grande Valley is even more severe.
In May 2012, I recommended to the Board of Regents that the UT System create a medical school in South Texas, transforming the Regional Academic Health Center into a free-standing medical school. The regents later committed $10 million a year for 10 years in support of the school.
When the Board of Regents and I came up with a plan to establish a new UT university in South Texas — one that would be eligible for support from the Permanent University Fund — the decision was made to make the medical school part of the university. That move meant the Rio Grande Valley would be home to a university – UT-RGV — with unparalleled opportunity to become a major public research university. The Texas Legislature approved the proposal in 2013 and increased funding of the Regional Academic Health Center by $5 million per year.
Resources pledged by the regents — including $30 million allocated in 2011 — have been targeted to attract outstanding faculty and to strengthen medical research. This investment has already paid off with the recent recruitment of a 22-member team of federally- funded researchers who will establish the South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute with laboratories across the region.
Collaborating with local hospitals, we plan to increase medical residency positions from 33 to 168 over the next five years, assuring that medical school graduates can continue their training locally and practice where they train. We will continue to recruit outstanding researchers who will bring federal grants and industry research funding to the region and produce products that will offer new technologies for economic development.
This summer, we opened a $10 million state-of-the-art “smart hospital” to teach clinical skills for students from middle school to medical school and to provide continuing and enrichment education for nurses, residents and other health professionals from 30 institutions across the region.
It is truly a time of hope, transformation and investment in the Rio Grande Valley.
We have come so far in just a few years and the commitment the UT System has demonstrated to the Rio Grande Valley is significant. The Board of Regents has appropriated $196 million for construction, including $54 million for an academic building for the medical school.
But the support isn’t coming from UT alone. At the August groundbreaking for the medical school’s first new academic building, a memorandum of understanding was signed with four cities and Hidalgo County for $4.75 million — in support of the medical school each year as part of a $50 million, decade-long pledge. And philanthropic support for scholarship programs has already begun.
A medical school is an expensive proposition but it is an investment worth making. To achieve this ambition we share with the residents of the Rio Grande Valley, we will need support from a variety of sources. This includes additional funding from the Texas Legislature, industry, philanthropy and continued support from the community and citizens throughout South Texas.
The University of Texas is extremely proud of the many partnerships we have enjoyed with civic leaders, legislators, hospitals and communities in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties who have made the future so bright for the region. We look forward to continuing these important partnerships and together building a stronger, healthier, economically vibrant Rio Grande Valley.
A Laredo native, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa is chancellor of The University of Texas System.