Although plans for UT medical schools in Austin and South Texas are being carried out simultaneously, each comes with its own set of questions.
The UT System Board of Regents announced plans for a new medical school in South Texas Aug. 17. These plans come three months after the board announced support for a UT-Austin medical school. Although they are being created simultaneously, the Austin program and the South Texas program are not identical, differing in areas such as their funding, infrastructure and expected completion date.
UT System spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the two medical schools differ in their funding and scope.
“These are two independent programs. The school in Austin is directly linked to UT-Austin, a tier-one research university,” de Bruyn said. “The other is very regional in its scope. Both incorporate very different approaches.”
Long-term funding for both institutions has not been set in stone. While there is some uncertainty regarding how both programs will be fully funded long term, De Bruyn said a large portion of revenue for each school will come from their surrounding economies. The UT System has pledged to fund $30 million annually to cover operating costs for a UT-Austin medical school. In South Texas, the system is relying on existing UT and state resources.
“Along with the UT System and the state of Texas, a large percentage of the funding for the medical programs will come from both commercial and private sources in their respective areas,” he said.
The Seton Healthcare Family, a Central Texas health care provider, has pledged $250 million for a new teaching hospital in Austin to replace University Medical Center Brackenridge, a public teaching hospital. The health care provider already has a relationship with UT and currently funds 200 UT-Southwestern Medical Center residents along with hundreds of UT medical faculty members.
At a conference earlier this month, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the infrastructure for the South Texas medical school will come from existing UT facilities and other state resources. UT-Austin is currently scouting for a spot for its medical school close to University Medical Center Brackenridge.
“The year 2018 will be a very special year for all of us,” Cigarroa said. “It will be the year that we graduate our first class of medical school students in South Texas.”
Unlike the South Texas program, there is no projected date for the first medical students to graduate from UT-Austin. However, de Bruyn said, each school is on course to be completed.
“Both programs are on track from when the plan of action was first proposed,” he said.
Shortly after the regent’s announcement, state Senator Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, released a statement stressing the need for an independent medical program in the Rio Grande Valley.
“South Texas is home to fast-growing communities with unjust healthcare disparities,” Lucio said. “We are undoubtedly the part of Texas most in need of a medical school.”
Lucio applauded the progress made by the UT System in its effort to implement a medical program in this region.
“By committing to graduating students by 2018, UT has given everyone in South Texas reason to celebrate,” he said in the statement.
Pre-med and biology senior Allan Lara said having a medical program in the Rio Grande Valley will allow students and doctors from that area to give back to their communities.
“Being from South Texas, I know it will be important having a medical school nearby to keep students like myself linked to their families and close to home,” he said. “Coming from a Hispanic background, family is a tradition I was raised with. This will help maintain the connection with my loved ones back home.”
Lara said the medical schools, especially the program in South Texas, will generate a better learning atmosphere and give students positive role models.
“This will bring about leaders from surrounding communities and create role models who can push many students to pursue a higher education,” Lara said.