HARLINGEN — The founding dean of the South Texas Medical School says he has a 50-year vision that could bring global perspective to the Rio Grande Valley, especially in the field of medical care.
Dr. Francisco Fernandez, introduced formally Wednesday to the Valley community at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, said that as the region stands poised to merge two key universities and create a medical school, potential looms for the region to pioneer significant scientific advancements.
“When you think of all the possibilities of having us serve as a model for global health, it really is just superb and outstanding,” he said.
He sited SpaceX and its interest in the region as a future launch site, the simulation facility at the Regional Academic Health Center now under expansion, and the possibilities of miniaturization and device development as a foundation for growth.
“It’s just going to be a sight to behold,” Fernandez said.
“So you may be wondering why the dean of a medical school is thinking about the aerospace industry. I don’t want to be an astronaut,” he quipped, “but I do think that there is enormous potential for not just medicine but all the sciences, and we aim to make good on that.”
Fernandez, at turns serious and jovial, encouraged the community to partner with him to help advance Hispanic health initiatives in the region, especially in the treatment of obesity, nutrition and diabetes.
“There are three communities — Chicago, L.A. and San Antonio — that have a significant standing in the country with respect to Hispanic health initiatives,” he said. “But guess who is going to be coming up right behind them.”
Addressing a large gathering of city, county and community leaders, state legislators, medical professionals and residents, Fernandez said progress would hinge on community involvement.
“I will need all of your collaborative efforts,” he said. “I don’t know all of the answers and I certainly don’t know all of the questions, but I appreciate this opportunity and I promise you that I will not let you down.”
The School of Medicine will offer medical students interested in Hispanic health issues a hands-on opportunity.
“They are going to say, ‘The place that I want to be is right here,’” Fernandez said.
His first step is to assemble a staff that will help him attain accreditation and establish a curriculum in time for the school’s first official class in 2016.
“I am so excited and I just can’t hide it,” Fernandez joked, quoting a popular song by the Pointer Sisters. “This is truly the most excited I have been since graduating from med school.”
He was introduced by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who has been instrumental in bringing about the merger of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg.
Cigarroa said Fernandez’s leadership will play an important role in moving forward with the new university.
“I am confident, under his leadership, our goals will come to fruition,” Cigarroa said.
Fernandez was unanimously selected from a large field of highly qualified candidates, largely for his administrative background.
He has been a professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the Morsani College of Medicine for 12 years, as well as a professor in the Department of Community and Family Health at the College of Public Health, University of South Florida in Tampa.
He has been recognized nationally for his 131 peer-reviewed publications, his clinical work in neurosciences, and his leadership roles at a number of health organizations.
Fernandez said that, during the interview process, many people warned him that the role of founding dean would require enormous effort.
“OK, bring it on,” he said.
The hard work is only just beginning, he warned.
“We are going to double, triple, quadruple our efforts to accreditation and beyond, to make this the opportunity that all of you want it to be,” Fernandez said.