Sept. 6, 2017
Note to reporters and editors: In addition to the Texas
Medicine profile on The University of Texas Rio Grande
Valley Medical School, please note these other September features you might find
Physicians face dozens of "prior
authorization" hurdles each week as they try to prescribe
care and medicine for their patients; and
Physicians are learning chronic disease health
problems in some adult patients might be a result of Adverse Childhood
A medical school created to serve one of the poorest
and most underserved areas in Texas faces a major challenge as state education funds
are cut in a tight budget year. The University
of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine (UTRGV) relies heavily on operational funding from the Texas Legislature
to train medical students and improve health care along the Texas-Mexico border.
In May, the legislature approved a two-year budget of $54.1 million for UTRGV.
The funding package, however, was $7.2 million less than the budget given two
years earlier. The September issue of the Texas Medical
Association’s (TMA’s) Texas Medicine
magazine examines the Valley medical school that just welcomed its second
class, or “cohort,” of students.
John H. Krouse, MD, dean of the UTRGV School of
Medicine and vice president for health affairs, says the loss
of state money will not cause cuts, but it will force the school to be
"very strategic" about where it expands. The area has no hospital
district to help fund the medical school, so state funding is its lifeblood. UTRGV,
like other medical schools, has considered public-private partnerships to
generate revenue and local support to create a hospital district in Hidalgo
County. The taxing authority of a district could provide millions of dollars annually
for the school and give it a shot at more federal funds. However, county voters twice turned down a hospital district
referendum. Dr. Krouse says UTRGV is open to all funding options, "but
long term, for sustainability, we need a local hospital district. It's something
every other academic medical center has in the state."
Carlos J. Cardenas, MD, TMA president and advocate
for the medical school's creation, says UTRGV faces many of the same obstacles all
new medical schools expect: improving funding sources, recruiting faculty,
developing more residencies — or training positions for new physicians — and
raising its profile. Despite the financial challenges, Cardenas says UTRGV has
boosted the local economy and expanded health care access in the region. "To
have a professional school in our community that could make use of the raw
brain talent and just brain power that exists down here ― that would be the
whole thing ― the piece of the puzzle that would make the area grow," Dr.
Dr. Cardenas says the school is trying new ways of
teaching medicine and reaching out to neighboring areas. One of the first of
those innovative programs is a mobile clinic ― partly staffed by first- and
second-year medical students as well as residents ― that delivers health care
to areas that are critically underserved. This includes 16 colonias or unincorporated neighborhoods that
typically have poor infrastructure, low-incomes, and large Hispanic
That care fills a need across the four counties that
make up the Valley: Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy. Throughout the
region, more than 38 percent of people are uninsured. The overall rate for
Texas, which has the highest percentage of people without health insurance in
the country, is 17 percent, Dr. Krouse said. "There is a
poor physician-patient ratio, so there are a number of people who live in this
area who simply have not had the access to care that they might have in other
cities. It's an opportunity to build a community-based practice, to increase
the primary care in the area, to look at some innovative programs in how you
deliver care to the communities." This outreach, which gives students early hands-on
opportunities, is part of the school's unusual approach to educating future physicians.
Dr. Cardenas believes education financing will turn
around as more people see the school as an economic driver in research and
other health-related industries. "There will be people who make their
careers here," Dr. Cardenas said. "They're going to make discoveries
that are going to make a huge difference in how we're going to tackle certain
illnesses. So we're just scratching the surface."
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation,
representing more than 50,000 physician and medical student members. It is
located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the
state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
Contact: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org
Marcus Cooper (512)
370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org
Connect with TMA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Check out MeAndMyDoctor.com for interesting and timely news on health care issues and