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HARLINGEN, RGV – Wearing the symbolic long white coat for the first time is a pivotal rite of passage for medical students and residents around the country, says Dr. Francisco Fernandez, founding dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Fernandez was at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen on Monday afternoon to witness 42 new residents join the Rio Grande Valley community for rotations at three area hospitals. It was the first White Coat ceremony hosted by the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, which is currently undergoing accreditation.

“Starting here and starting now, our resident physicians will learn that how care is delivered is as important as what care is delivered,” Fernandez said.

“We have the best opportunity to make a difference for our community with our new residents. Their work as doctors in hospitals and clinics across the Valley will serve to expand healthcare access in a unique partnership with our hospital partners.”

Of the 42 new residents, ten will practice internal medicine at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen and six will practice family medicine at McAllen Medical Center. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is taking 26 residents, 12 in internal medicine, six in family medicine, four in obstetrics and gynecology, and four in general surgery.

“It is a great day for the Rio Grande Valley,” Fernandez told the residents. “You are the foundation of a formidable learning environment. We are here to honor you and your accomplishments.”

The residents hail not just from around the United States, but also from Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica, Jordan and Peru. Asked what he thought about coming to the Valley, Carlos Paris, from Bogotá, Colombia, said: “It is a nice community that is under-served and actually it imitates a lot my community in Colombia. It is a nice opportunity for me.” Speaking in Spanish, Cesar Gutierrez, of Monterrey, Mexico, said: “It was not a difficult decision to come here because I know this area. It is a great opportunity for me.”

Fernandez told RGV Public Radio 88 FM and the Rio Grande Guardian that he had left his white coat at home. He said had he brought it along it would have looked different to those worn by the residents and faculty. He said it was a shorter white coat.

“Since we do not have the students yet I decided to get a coat that was the student-length size. And I am going to go through the four years of the inaugural class with them and when they graduate I’ll get a long coat,” Fernandez said.

Dr. Yolanda Gomez, UTRGV associate dean of graduate medical education, told RGV Public Radio 88 FM and the Rio Grande Guardian, that while she is a pediatrician by training she is charged right now for overseeing all the residency programs in the Valley.

“I am the person who is going to be aware and check that their rotations and clinical experiences are up to expectations and what they need for their excellent training and be providers of healthcare afterwards. This is a marvelous experience to have it here in the Valley. We are opening four new residency programs to add to the two existing ones that we have here. So, we are bringing more young people to train here with the expectation of keeping them here in the Valley to provide service to our people,” Gomez said.

There are 27 residents already studying and practicing medicine in the Valley. Valley Baptist Medical Center and McAllen Medical Center currently have at total of 27 residents who already have started their residency programs through UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Gomez pointed out that the new medical residents were selected March 20 on Match Day, when a computer-based selection process “matched” each medical student to a hospital with a residency program. The hospitals, and surrounding communities, will be their homes for the next three to five years while they are in training, Gomez explained.

“All our residents will start this chapter of their lives on July 1. We welcome all of our new residents to the Rio Grande Valley as they take the first steps into a medical career. We look forward to having them be a part of our growing medical community.”