HARLINGEN, Texas – Dr. Nolan Perez, MD, a regent of the UT System, predicted the “brain drain” from the Rio Grande Valley will soon become a thing of the past. 

He says collaborations such as the one UT-Rio Grande Valley has with Harlingen CISD, which has led to the opening of Harlingen Collegiate High School, and a newly announced partnership between UTRV and HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division, which will see UTRGV School of Medicine medical students take up residencies at HCA facilities in the Valley, will deter the Valley’s best and brightest from leaving the region.

“We are seeing the end of the brain drain for our folks. They can go if they want, but they don’t have to go. They can stay here and become professionals and serve our region and that’s just incredible,” Nolan said.

Dr. Nolan Perez, MD.

The Harlingen-based physician was speaking at the UTRGV-HCA partnership announcement. The agreement will see HCA take 30 resident physicians to Brownsville and McAllen by the summer 2024, with plans to seat 150 total resident physician positions by 2029.

Residents from the UTRGV School of Medicine will train at HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division affiliate hospitals Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen and Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville. This is the first time UTRGV will have a residency program in Brownsville.

The UTRGV-HCA announcement was held at the UTRGV Clinical Education Building on Treasure Hills Boulevard in Harlingen.

“This is a super exciting day to be here because the University of Texas-RGV continues to transform this great region of ours,” Nolan said.

Perez said he wanted to thank Gov. Greg Abbott. 

“Lately, it’s been it’s been on my mind how appreciative I am of this appointment because you see all the amazing things happening across the UT System at every one of our institutions,” Perez said. 

He said great things are happening at places like UT-Austin, MD Anderson and UT-San Antonio. Such institutions are enhancing educational opportunities in healthcare and driving research and innovation in order to serve Texas and Texas. 

“But for me, my pride and joy is here. I am from the Valley.”

UT System Chancellor James Milliken could not be at the event but he did speak via a video link. Perez called him the Wizard of Oz. 

Perez said that because of the support Milliken and the UT System board of trustees are showing UTGV President Guy Bailey, great things are happening in the Valley. He said this is important for the whole of Texas.

“The board knows how important this region is for the citizens. When you go out you see young kids shopping or see young kids in your clinics and anywhere in the community, the faces of those kids are the faces of the future of Texas and America, given the demographic changes, given the rapid growth of this region,” Perez said.

“So, talent is universal. This is another line I’m going to borrow from Chancellor Milliken. Talent is universal, but opportunities are not. They are lagging behind (here). So I’m thankful that we have the leadership that is continuing to create opportunities after opportunities, so we can bridge that gap. And so all of those talented kids with their amazing, brilliant minds can do anything that they want to do, inclusive of attending your school of medicine, Dean Hocker or one of your residency or fellowship programs that you’re creating.”

Dr. Michael B. Hocker, who also spoke at the event, is dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Perez said it is fantastic that UTRGV has around 32,000 students, noting that most of which can attend for university for free, because tuition is paid in full for those coming from a family earning less than $125,000.

Perez said the Valley does not have enough specialist physicians or primary care doctors. 

“So I love that Dr. Bailey and his team on the academic side are starting to really partner with school districts starting in middle school and high school. You look at the different college campuses that he’s creating across the Rio Grande Valley so that these kids can begin. There’s a campus just down the street from here, right, Harlingen Collegiate High, that’s a UTRGV campus for that purpose. They have an affiliation with School of Health Professions just about a mile and a half two miles from here, so that these kids that want to become physicians, they can attend right here and we can create our own homegrown physicians, our own homegrown health professionals, nurses, whatever they want to do.”

Perez said he would like to one day see 300 or 400 residents learning their craft in Valley hospitals. He said he knew this was ambitious.

”We definitely need to create our own homegrown professionals. Students that graduate from high school here, that attend college here, that attend to residencies and fellowships here. This is really how we can transform this region.”

Perez concluded his remarks by saying he knows how difficult it is to put partnerships together such as the one between UTRGV and HCA. 

“This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s very complicated to put these types of collective impact partnerships together,” Perez said.

“It takes all of us coming together to try to get these opportunities from an education standpoint, from a healthcare standpoint, from research and innovation standpoint.”

Perez added: “I can’t wait to see it come to fruition.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a three-part series on the new UTRGV-HCA partnership. Part Two, featuring the analysis of UT System Chancellor James Milliken will be posted later this week.

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