HARLINGEN — Randy Whittington, who played a key role in the development of the region’s new medical school, said the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley is more than an economic development project.
“You need to keep the focus on what this is all about,” Whittington said. “This is an academic project that seeks an academic institution of excellence.”
Whittington, president of the South Texas Medical Foundation and a former Harlingen mayor, spoke Tuesday morning to city officials and local business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss his role and how it led to the development of the new medical school.
Whittington is the third speaker in the chamber’s monthly “Buenos Dias” series, which this year will focus on Harlingen: The Pulse of the UT-RGV’s Medical School. The speaker series is intended to bring the university and medical school stakeholders to speak to chamber members on the last Tuesday of every month.
Whittington said the news of the medical school is receiving national attention.
“People all over the United States are learning about what is happening and they are excited,” Whittington said.
The new medical school will combine the assets and resources of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, the University of Texas Pan American, and the University of Texas at Brownsville. It is expected to enroll its first class in the fall of 2016.
“Students will be 50 to a class, which is expected to grow,” Whittington said. “And 150 residency slots will be available, so every graduate has the opportunity to stay in the Valley.”
In response to a question about the length of the process, Whittington said, “In the world of academia, 2016 and 2018 is like the day after tomorrow.”
Also responding to questions, Whittington said the main campus for the new medical school is not important.
“There are still many things that need to be done before decisions like that are made,” he said, adding that the goal is to make the medical school and university “a tier one school.”
“I predict the UT-RGV will become the second largest academic institution in the UT System,” Whittington said.
Chamber Ambassador and City Commissioner Victor Leal said the medical school will affect the entire Rio Grande Valley.
“The community needs to know that this isn’t a Harlingen thing. This is a Valley thing,” Leal said.
Looking at the bigger picture, Leal said, the area will be filled to the brim with academics, citing the merger of the universities that are now UT-RGV.
“Just imagine, the center of academia,” Leal said.
Bob Shepard, who was involved with construction of the RAHC 15 years ago and who continues to be involved with it, was recently part of the committee that recruited the new medical school dean Dr. Francisco Fernandez.
Shepard said since the beginning, Whittington has put a lot of work into the new medical school.
“He has put his heart and soul into the med school and it’s important to have someone with the dedication that he has,” Shepard said.