May 15, 2021
AUSTIN – The Texas Medical Association (TMA) today installed Edinburg internist E. Linda Villarreal, MD, as president. She will lead the association for one year, after having served the past year as president-elect.
Dr. Villarreal said she feels awe and excitement about her presidency. “To be a tangible leader is a big responsibility, but I am so excited for the opportunity.”
She took what she calls a “scenic route” to carving out a career as a physician.
Ever since experiencing “house call” visits by her family physician when she was a child, she aspired to become a doctor. She admired the personal, patient-first care she received. Her mother – whom she regards as her lifelong beloved supporter – provided steadfast financial and emotional support for her aspirations. The Edinburg native attended Pan American College for one year before transferring to The University of Texas at Austin to complete her undergraduate studies. However, family pressure pushed her toward becoming a pharmacist instead of being a physician because pharmacy requires a shorter educational path.
As a result, Dr. Villarreal worked as a pharmacist for a decade before ultimately returning to school to study.
She graduated with her medical degree from Universidad de Noreste Medical School in Tampico, Mexico. She then interned at Huron Road Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and completed her residency at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso.
She was set to begin practicing medicine in Dallas when tragedy struck: Her mother was killed in an auto accident. As a result, Dr. Villarreal returned to Edinburg to stay. She opened Memorial Medical Clinic and began her private practice in internal medicine in August 1989. The following year, she also joined the staff of Edinburg General Hospital, where she became chief of staff.
Soon she became involved in organized medicine, rising among ranks and expanding her influence. Dr. Villarreal served in many TMA leadership roles in her 32 years as a member. She chaired the TMA Board of Trustees, is a member of the philanthropic TMA Foundation Board of Trustees, and served on TMA’s Council on Legislation and Patient-Physician Advocacy Committee. She also is active on the Texas Delegation to the American Medical Association House of Delegates. The physician served as district vice chair of TEXPAC, TMA’s political action committee. She also chaired the TMA PracticeEdge Board of Managers for the TMA-affiliated physician services organization.
Dr. Villarreal was president of the local Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society and serves on the TMA-affiliated Border Health Caucus, of which she was president.
The internal medicine physician has practiced for 32 years, and she also served as chief of staff at Edinburg Regional Medical Center.
While her mother never got to appreciate her service to the community as a physician, Dr. Villarreal has always felt her spiritual presence.
She also remains driven by the memory of her family doctor, who saw his patients whenever and wherever they needed care. He provided a “medical home” for them – a model of care Dr. Villarreal respects.
She said she wants to personify the medical home concept for her patients.
“We’re losing the sense of the medical home,” she said. “We’re losing the concept of, ‘I am your family physician. If you have questions or if you have to be seen, I can see you.’ ”
Dr. Villarreal also hopes to be a role model for “little girls who may think they can never do this.” She sees herself as proof of the possible: “I took the leap of faith to reach for that golden ring – being called ‘Dr. Linda.’ ”
As she takes on her biggest leadership role, she still senses her mother’s support.
“My mom is proud of me even though she is in heaven since 1989,” she said. “I feel her nod of approval, personified by the six aunts she left behind to remind me of my responsibility – my tias [“aunts” in Spanish]. They all had a part in my training even into adulthood, and still do.”
Dr. Villarreal still honors the memory of Donald White – her husband of 25 years who supported her passion for medicine. Mr. White died of leukemia in 2015. Five years later, she married Paul William Frey.
“When God closes a door, he shows you an open window,” she said. “I went through it and there he was – a man who loves me, supports me in my professional endeavors, and became my husband seven months ago; how lucky is that?!”
Even her presidential ceremony required adapting to change because of the pandemic. Instead of being installed in front of a ballroom filled with the Family of Medicine, Dr. Villarreal was sworn in by a small gathering of the TMA Board of Trustees; departing TMA President Diana L. Fite, MD; and speakers of the TMA House of Delegates policymaking body during TexMed, TMA’s annual conference. Most attendees watched the conference virtually this year.
Dr. Villarreal has two sons, Rene and Bernardo Flores, and seven grandchildren. She attributes much of her success to her family’s support. “My passion is medicine. It is who I am, not what I do. My sons understand that. Even my grandchildren now understand.”
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 55,000 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.
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