HARLINGEN — William C. Head, M.D., a distinguished orthopedic surgeon from Dallas, has granted the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine its first major contribution — a $600,000 gift to establish the Jean Marie Rodriguez-Ayers Scholarship — to benefit UT-RGV’s inaugural class of medical students.
Francisco Fernandez, M.D., founding dean of UT-RGV’s School of Medicine, announced the gift Thursday at the dedication of the new UT-RGV Smart Hospital at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. The RAHC is a satellite campus of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
“This is an incredible gift and we are so honored,” Fernandez said. “We want to make a medical education available to any student who has the skills and commitment to do the work and we don’t want a student’s economic situation to stop them from pursuing their dream.”
Head was born in Arkansas and finished medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. He completed his residency in orthopedics at UT Southwestern in Dallas — after a three-year hiatus as medical officer in the U.S. Navy — and also completed a fellowship in adult reconstructive surgery of the hip at Massachusetts General in Boston. Head served for two years on the Harvard University faculty at Boston’s Brigham Hospital. He returned to Texas in 1960 and went on to establish the Texas Center for Joint Replacement, in addition to serving as a part-time faculty member at UT Southwestern.
Head has long been involved in improving health care in the Valley. More than a decade ago, he and his wife established a scholarship program at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio for students who completed their third and fourth years of medical school at the RAHC in the Rio Grande Valley. In 2004, a $1 million gift from the Heads established a Distinguished Chair in Development and Environmental Neonatology to study premature births and low-birth-weight rates in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Dr. Head has long been interested in improving health care for Texans — particularly focused on how lack of access to quality preventative healthcare can affect a population,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., who served as president of UT Health Science Center-San Antonio when Head established the scholarship program and distinguished chair at that institution. “His generosity has already improved the lives of countless people and this latest gift will open doors of opportunity for many aspiring physicians.”
Now that the RAHC will be transitioning to the UT-RGV’s School of Medicine, Head decided it was time to once again provide support.
“The vision is to attract qualified students from South Texas and give them some financial assistance, maybe even make it possible for them to graduate from medical school debt-free,” Head said. “Hopefully, with that support, they will become doctors and stay in the region to give back to their community.”
The scholarship program is named for the sister of Head’s longtime assistant, Cynthia Ayers. Ayers’ sister died in December 2013 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 45.
“I couldn’t help but wonder how basic education and access to affordable health care when we were children could have saved her life,” Ayers said.