EDINBURG, Texas – The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has approved a request from UT-Rio Grande Valley to create a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine with a major in Podiatric Medicine, for the UTRGV School of Podiatry. 

Podiatry or podiatric medicine is a branch of medicine devoted to the study of diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle, and lower extremity. 

In a Zoom conversation with the Rio Grande Guardian, Dr. Lawrence Harkless, interim dean of the UTRGV School of Podiatry, said the school is the first of its kind in Texas.

Dr. Lawrence Harkless, interim dean of the UTRGV School of Podiatry.

“The school will allow students to pursue careers in the medical and surgical care of the foot and ankle – an important specialization for the Valley, with its high incidence of diabetes and related diseases of the lower extremities,” Harkless said.

Approval by THECB comes with the understanding that UTRGV will hire three faculty members before enrolling students for its fall 2022 inaugural class, pending accreditation by both the Council on Pediatric Medical Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Dr. Fred Farias, vice chairman of the coordinating board, said the School of Podiatry will transcend diabetic care in the region.

“I was proud to make the motion to the THECB for the establishment for the UTRGV School of Podiatry, it will be the very first one in the state of Texas. It is important not only to the region but to the state,” Farias said.

“There is a high incidence of diabetes in the Valley, and foot care is very important in diabetic care. We will be able to train podiatrists right here at UTRGV to meet the needs of patients in the Valley,” he said.

Harkless said the journey to approval has been a lengthy process but well worth the wait.

“I was recruited as interim dean by Dr. John Krouse, UTRGV’s executive vice president for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, to create an academic plan for the UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine,” Harkless said. “My personal journey is like the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) brand – learn, serve, lead.”

In the Zoom conversation, Harkless paid tribute to his personal mentor, Dr. Louis T. Bogy, founding chair of the Podiatry Residency Training Program at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Harkless said Bogy had a vision for a school of podiatric medicine in the UT System, which culminated in enabling legislation in 1973 to establish a school of podiatric medicine in the UT System. But, incredibly, it took 46 years for it to happen. 

“My previous experiences serving in academia, business and government have prepared me well to be in the position to develop a school of podiatric medicine in the UT System. It has been an exciting journey built on the foundation of faith and hope,” Harkless said.

Harkless said it is exciting that students and faculty also will have opportunities to engage in research within the UTRGV School of Podiatry.  

“We anticipate that the UTRGV School of Podiatry will become the recognized authority in diabetic foot research due to the large diabetic patient population in the Valley. With careful recruitment of faculty who are experienced in research and mentoring students, residents and post-docs, we will have opportunities to participate in research design, patient recruitment, examination and data analysis.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said he has high hopes for the new school.

“Our School of Podiatry is going to be a big game-changer here in the Valley, where so many people need specialty care due to complications from diabetes,” Bailey said. “This will allow us to train our own doctors to address a very specific critical need. We remain committed to improving the future of healthcare in South Texas.”

Krouse, the dean of UTRGV School of Medicine, said he is proud of the work that went into bringing about the first school of podiatry to Texas.

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Harkless and the faculty and staff who dedicated their efforts into making the UTRGV School of Podiatry a reality. We know that the school will increase public awareness of foot and ankle problems in the region and state,” Krouse said.

“Through collaborations with other professionals and policymakers, we will make Texans healthier and more active. The school will also help improve the shortage of podiatric physicians in the state, especially in under-served areas where amputation and disability rates are extremely high.”

Here is the Zoom conversation with Dr. Harkless:

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