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Students Ruben Villarreal, Laura Lomeli, and Diego Cardenas chat with TAMIU President Pablo Arenaz. (Photo: RGG/Melva Lavín-Castillo)

LAREDO, Texas – The launching of a new career opportunity in bio-medical data analysis is a great example of how two different school systems can work together, say administrators.

Susan H. Fenton

Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and its School of Biomedical Informatics-Brownsville Campus, have partnered in the new Grad Program in Bio-Medical Health Informatics.

“We are very proud of being part of this new journey,” TAMIU President Pablo Arenaz said. “It is a really wonderful program.”

The new 4 + 1 graduate program takes selected senior TAMIU students and admits them into graduate certificated biomedical informatics, a 15-hour program with courses offered online. It integrates graduate curriculum into the student’s undergraduate work, TAMIU said.

The students graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, while also earning a graduate certificate in biomedical informatics. The students also have a chance to get their Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics.

Susan H. Fenton, associate dean for academic affairs at UTHealth, said that today’s age, a lot more information is needed to improve health care in the community.

Laura Lomeli

“Our goal is to educate professionals to use technology and information in solving problems,” Fenton said. “We can save a lot of money on health, and we can save many lives.”

She explained that 95 percent of hospitals use electronic health records, and 85 percent of doctors do too.

“By the year 2020 we expect to have 25,000 petabytes of health reports,” Fenton said. “We are teaching our students how to understand that data.”

The program insists on the importance of turning data into useful information.

Fenton said 90 percent of graduates from this career get a job in a 3-month span after graduation, earning between $45,000 – $60,000 per year.

“And, professionals can do get a job in Laredo,” she stated.

John C. Kilburn, associate vice president for research and sponsored projects at TAMIU, spoke about the “passionate students” registered in the program so far.

“We are very excited about this program,” Kilburn said. “We are just thrilled to be a part of it.”

Diego Cardenas

Diego Cardenas, Laura Lomeli and Ruben Villarreal are students seeking a bachelor of science degree in biology.

Lomeli, a graduate from Alexander High School, has always been interested in dentistry. She said she has been enjoying the program so far.

“Since I was a freshman I wanted to be a dentist. I was working as a dentist assistant,” Lomeli said. “The program will help me when I become a dentist because we will use electronic health records, and I will have a background about it already.”

Cardenas, who graduated within the Top 10 of his class from Laredo Early College High School, said he is “very intrigued” by the program.

“The classes have been demanding, and we are able to study along with students from the rest of the country,” Cardenas said.

During the summer, Cardenas was interning in a doctor’s office in Laredo. He said he learned how to use the office’s chart program and how things worked generally behind the scenes.

“The program is barely starting, but it is demanding in the sense that’s different from undergraduate courses, there’s more readings of articles and textbooks,” Cardenas said.

Villarreal, a graduate from United High School, said a key factor for him is that the program is online.

“It has been kind of a bumping start, it has been difficult, it is challenging, but after the first couple of assignments I feel like I have been able to understand the class,” Villarreal said. “It is a lot of information, but it’s very good information.”

Villarreal wants to become a medical doctor. He said he can see a bright future for this career, and how he will be able to apply the information he has learned on the course into his own professional life.

“I think this program will help me to be a better physician, being able to understand how computers and everything works behind it. I feel that would make me give better patient care, and save lives,” Villarreal said.

According to TAMIU, during the last semester of undergraduate study, students can apply for the graduate degree program to complete the remaining semester credit hours required for the Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics. The remaining semester credit hours can be completed in one year, if enrolled full-time, TAMIU stated.