BY STATE SEN. JUAN ‘CHUY’ HINOJOSA
If you’ve stopped and looked around the Rio Grande Valley lately, you’ve noticed new businesses, restaurants and housing developments that have been built or are under construction. Communities throughout the Valley have recently been energized with remarkable economic growth — new jobs, population increases, new transportation projects, prosperous economic development corporations and record numbers of students enrolled in our higher education programs.
Our regional growth is no coincidence. The economic development and progress that surrounds us is very visible and is largely attributable to a new university and first-class medical school that recently opened its doors. And while this great progress is exciting, it is just the beginning of the Valley’s potential.
The creation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the UTRGV School of Medicine was historic. Just a few years ago, the Valley could have never dreamed of the doors that are now opening or of the many opportunities at our doorstep. There was a time when our students would leave the region because no higher education opportunities existed, our workforce would leave because of a lack of good-paying jobs, and our family and loved ones would leave because no doctors were here to provide them with care.
It took decades to get a medical school here that could provide the healthcare and educational benefits the Valley so desperately needed. As a medically-underserved area, our fast-growing communities have a severe physician shortage, very limited resources and critical health epidemics. But now the medical school is already working to improve our region’s health and economy.
UTRGV currently partners with Hidalgo County, several cities, school districts, educational institutions, hospitals, nonprofits and clinics to provide primary care, family medicine, mental health care, nutrition, and dental care to families. Many medical students are already working alongside faculty in the VA clinics, schools, health clinics, and partner hospitals across the Valley. A new and innovative Mobile Clinic, staffed by first- and second-year medical students, also is delivering health care to critically underserved areas, including colonias. Also, The South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute, part of the medical school, is a world class research program that has already brought millions of dollars to our region in grant funding.
The medical school officially opened its doors in fall 2016 with its first class and will train new doctors, nurses, and other providers so that we can expand healthcare services for all residents, both insured and uninsured. Campus buildings and research facilities have been built and more are being constructed to generate students and economic value in the area. Greater research opportunities and connections to the private sector have begun to trigger an expansion in the medical industry and health are related businesses, and we are starting to see more jobs, technology, businesses and dollars into our local economies.
And more is coming! We need to be reminded that it has only been one year since the medical school first opened. Once we start graduating physicians, the real transformation begins. We need only look to our neighboring medical school to the north, the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, for a vision of what the RGV can achieve. It was built on a farm and ranch land in 1948 and is now a multi-billion dollar medical complex that makes up 30 percent of the local economy by educating doctors in different specialties, creating thousands of new jobs, attracting hundreds of health-related businesses, bringing millions of dollars in medical research, and providing better health for Texas.
But to make this vision happen right here in the Valley, we must all do our part. We are creating a healthier and prosperous future for our children, and it is critical to continue investing in our medical school and ensure its continued growth. Although the Rio Grande Valley is made up of many cities, our region is one community. We are all benefiting, growing, and just beginning to reap the enormous health and economic benefits that only a medical school can bring.