One of medicine’s long-time and most influential state legislative champions, Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond), has been named The University of Texas System’s new executive vice chancellor for health affairs.
On Wednesday Representative Zerwas announced that he will step down from elected office as of Sept. 30. He will start his new position Oct. 1.
“I am deeply honored to accept this position and all of the responsibilities to serve UT institutions and the people of Texas that come with it,” he said Thursday in a joint statement with UT officials. “I look forward to working with Chancellor [James B.] Milliken and the Board of Regents in providing support to all UT health presidents as they advance their missions in health care, education and research.”
Representative Zerwas – an anesthesiologist and currently one of seven Texas Medical Association-member physicians in the Texas House and Senate – has served in the Texas Legislature since 2007. He was named chief House budget-writer for the 2019 and 2017 sessions as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He’s a member of the Legislative Budget Board and held positions on the House Public Health and Higher Education Committees, where he served as chair in 2015.
"It has been an absolute honor to represent House District 28, and I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the last 12 years," Representative Zerwas told the press Wednesday in a statement announcing his retirement. "I have served under three speakers, and each of them gave me incredible opportunities to lead for which I am grateful.”
Some of his notable accomplishments for medicine over the years include: raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco and vape products to 21; renewing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas; instituting new graduate medical education expansion programs; improving mental health funding; and fighting, albeit unsuccessfully, to expand Medicaid payments and coverage.
“Through my past legislative experience … I have had the opportunity to work on many areas of health policy and budget that are in dire need of our state's financial support,” he wrote in a 2016 commentary published in Texas Medicine.
TMA President David C. Fleeger, MD, told Texas Medicine Today: “Dr. Zerwas has served the citizens and patients of Texas with distinction. His reasoned voice in what, at times, can be an unreasonable process has allowed medicine to advance our advocacy for our patients. He will be greatly missed.”
Darren Whitehurst, TMA vice president for advocacy, echoed those sentiments. As a physician, “John has provided a unique perspective in the legislature. On the health care front, his colleagues often deferred to his thoughts and leadership, and the people of his district and Texas and the TMA were beneficiaries of that leadership. He will certainly be missed. He did a fantastic job, and medicine was fortunate to have him there for a dozen years.”
A physician for more than 30 years, Representative Zerwas is also a past-president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, co-founded a large Houston-area group practice, and served as chief medical officer at Memorial Hermann Healthcare System.
“Dr. Zerwas understands our health enterprise and the needs of Texas, and he will bring his experience from many perspectives to benefit our health institutions and our state,” Chancellor Milliken said in a statement.