EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — The first class of medical students in deep South Texas will graduate in 2018, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced Friday.
Cigarroa set an ambitious timeline for what until just recently seemed a long-fought for, but ultimately unfulfilled, goal in Texas' border region.
The first class of medical students in a dedicated South Texas track will be admitted in 2014. They will train their first two years at the existing UT Health Science Center in San Antonio before moving to the Lower Rio Grande Valley for their final two years. The students will graduate under the accredited San Antonio school.
But by 2018, Cigarroa hopes the South Texas medical school will attain its own accreditation, which would make it a free-standing medical school where, in theory, students could spend all four years.
"It is truly going to be a medical school that serves a region and not a city," said Cigarroa, himself a doctor and Laredo native.
The new school will be built around existing UT System health facilities in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, including the Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division building at the University of Texas-Pan American campus in Edinburg where Cigarroa spoke Friday, as well as buildings in Harlingen and Brownsville.
In 2011, UT System regents voted to invest $30 million in science and health education in South Texas and in May, they endorsed developing new medical schools in Austin and South Texas.
The first South Texas class is expected to have 15 students. But by 2018, Cigarroa said they expect to admit about 50 students each year. Already, there are about 100 medical students in various facilities around the Rio Grande Valley, having chosen the border to spend their final two years of medical school.
University officials and local politicians who pushed the issue for years believe it will result in more doctors setting up their practices here and eventually positively impact health outcomes in one of the most impoverished and medically underserved parts of the country.
More than 1.2 million people live in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, and about one in three live below the poverty line. It's a fast-growing young population, about one-third of which is below the age of 18.
In addition to allowing local students interested in medicine to study close to home, a medical school situated on the border could eventually draw students from beyond Texas.
"I'm seeing this school attracting students from throughout Latin America," Cigarroa said.