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EDINBURG, RGV – The first class of graduate medical education residents at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance told the second class what it is like to practice medicine in the Rio Grande Valley at a White Coat Ceremony.

Testimony was given by Alejandro Bocanegra, MD, a second year resident practicing family medicine, Clint Merritt, MD, a second year resident practicing general surgery, Kara Zabelny, DO, a second year resident practicing internal medicine, and Zishan Hirani, MD, a second year resident practicing obstetrics and gynecology.

White Coat ceremonies are a rite of passage for medical students about to enter the medical profession. Donning a white coat means the student is ready to treat patients as a professional for the first time. The event was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Other speakers at the event included Dr. Carlos Cardenas, a co-founder of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, R. Armour Forse, DHR’s chief academic officer, and Guy Bailey, president of UT-Rio Grande Valley.

Six new medical residents were welcomed into DHR’s family medicine program, four new medical residents were welcomed into DHR’s general surgery program, 11 new medical residents were welcomed into DHR’s internal surgery program, and four new medical residents were welcomed into DHR’s obstetrics and gynecology.

In his remarks, Bocanegra said he had “just enjoyed one of the most formative years of my life.” He told first year residents they would learn so much more about practicing medicine at DHR than they have reading a medical textbook. “A medical textbook will not tell someone how to take cure of an acutely ill patient with an unknown diagnosis. No high tech simulation system will teach somebody how to inform a whole extended family a pretty ill prognosis and that the patient might not survive that hospital stay,” Bocanegra said. “All of this knowledge, which is in part measurable and immeasurable, I owe to the support of the faculty and our DHR physicians and staff.”

In his remarks, Merritt said the collaboration between DHR and UTRGV is increasing access to healthcare in the Valley. “It also allows residency physicians to fulfil their lifelong dream of becoming a physician,” Merritt said. “We have had a great year. One thousand eight hundred and seventy-four – that is the number of surgical cases that were scrubbed by our four residents over the previous academic year. I would go out on a limb and say this exceeds the national average.” Merritt said general surgery residents made presentations at national conferences and that the DHR program this past year won national awards.

In her remarks, Zabelny said she was attracted to DHR because its faculty made a more compelling case than those at other hospitals around the nation. “When I came here, it was no longer what the hospital could do for me, it was what I could do for the hospital. How my presence was bringing about change to the hospital and the region itself. How my arrival was evolving how healthcare was delivered in the Rio Grande Valley. And how healthcare was provided for millions of people,” Zabelny said. She said UTRGV and DHR have built a foundation that affords medical residents an “incredible” opportunity. “I have been all over the country and I can say there is not another healthcare system like this. So, thank you DHR and UTRGV for working with us to create a new future for the Rio Grande Valley.”

In his remarks, Hirani said he would telephone friends and colleagues he studied with at medical school. He said he soon realized he was getting far more of a hands-on experience than they were. “I asked them, how was your first laparoscopic hysterectomy and they would laugh and say, what are you talking about, I am just an intern. I realized our program was a bit different.” Hirani said that rather than focus on strict definition, which is what an intern education is typically all about, DHR’s education program is patient-centered. Hirani said this past year he performed medical procedures usually carried out by chief residents or fellows. “It made our interning so special. I came to the Valley because of my prior training in community health. I realized early on that the Valley had been forgotten. The Valley has its own identity, its own needs defined by its own residents and its own solutions created by its own academics.” He said he was looking forward to becoming an academic physician focused on community health and disease prevention.

Another speaker at the ceremony was Norma Garcia, a first year medical student who was born and raised in McAllen but who undertook her studies elsewhere. “What I love about this place is the community, the family-oriented culture that we have here. I see that every day in the clinic. I am excited about the opportunity that the training here will give me for a career here.” Garcia said she has only been interning at DHR a couple of weeks and had just seen her first patient. She said the patient asked her how long she would be staying in the Valley. She replied at least four years. And after that, the patient asked. Garcia said she was not sure. “The patient said: ‘Well let me know because I am going to follow you everywhere you go.’ I was very emotional and honored,” Garcia said.

Dr. Cardenas, a co-founder of DHR, said: “A white coat ceremony is a rite of passage and a beautiful time. It reminds all of us of the time we began our training for the practice of medicine. It is a very special event.”

Dr. Forse said the ceremony was an “historic moment” for DHR because its first class of residents have just completed their first year of general medical education training at the DHR campus. Dr. Forse said that in addition to family medicine, general medicine, internal medicine, and gynecology, DHR is looking to add more GME training programs. Possible fields of study, he said, could include pediatrics, urology, orthopedics, neurology, psychiatry, cardiology, endocrinology, and others. “Working groups have started up to see how to bring these to the hospital. These are, I believe, very exciting times for medical education here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Forse said.

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