HARLINGEN — Mayor Chris Boswell said he welcomes the appointment of Dr. Francisco Fernandez as the founding dean of the new School of Medicine at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, calling him “a great selection.”
“I knew that we could count on the UT System to make a good selection and find a great founding dean for us,” Boswell said Friday.
“I had the pleasure to meet with him when he was going through the interview process and he met with various leaders throughout the Valley. So I think he’s going to be a great fit for the Valley.”
UT System officials on Friday confirmed the selection of Fernandez, professor and chairman of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.
Fernandez, 62, has previous experience in Texas. He was a faculty member at UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center and later Baylor College of Medicine from 1984 to 1997.
Boswell said Fernandez also is no stranger to the Valley. Fernandez vacationed in the Valley when he worked in Houston.
“He’s spent a lot of time in Texas in Houston. And when he was in Houston, he spent a lot of time down here vacationing on the (South Padre) Island,” Boswell said.
“So he kind of knows the area and I think they’re happy to get back to Texas and take on this new challenge. … He knows the region; he’s familiar with the region.”
Fernandez will be introduced to Harlingen and the rest of the Valley community on Feb. 26 with visits to the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American.
He is an expert in the brain’s relationship to behavior, the UT Systems Public Affairs Office said in a statement.
Fernandez said in the statement that the new School of Medicine will provide education that is state of the art in terms of the science of medicine while adding a humanistic approach to education “that will be inclusive.”
“I am excited and humbled by this tremendous opportunity to build the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine into a world-class educational center,” Fernandez said in the statement. “The chance to build a medical school from the ground up in a region as richly diverse and wonderful as South Texas is a dream come true.”
The choice of Fernandez was the result of a nationwide search, said Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, the UT System chancellor.
“We are grateful to the committee members who conducted an extensive national search for this eminently well-qualified psychiatrist, neuroscientist and leader, and we look forward to the extremely important role he will play in the medical school’s formative years,” the chancellor said in the statement.
Fernandez was born in Cuba and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, the statement said. He received his bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1974 and earned a medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine at Boston in 1979.
He completed an internship in internal medicine and a residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and is board certified in psychiatry.
He joined the University of South Florida in 2002 and currently serves as first vice president of the American College of Psychiatrists.
Boswell said he was not disappointed that the first dean is not originally from Texas or the Valley.
The fact that Fernandez has been to the Valley on “a number of occasions before” shows “that he likes the region and is interested in coming back here,” Boswell said.
“I think you need to have the right kind of background to be the founding dean beginning this endeavor and we need somebody who has all the right credentials,” he said.
The mayor added, “This medical school, what we are about is building up somebody who could be a founding dean of a medical school” some day.
The new medical school will combine the assets and resources of the RAHC in Harlingen, UTPA and UTB. It is expected to enroll its first class in the fall of 2016.
Initially, Fernandez will report to Dr. Francisco González-Scarano, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio as well as the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, Dr. Ray Greenberg. Once UT-RGV becomes an independent entity, he will report to the new UT-RGV provost and president, as well as Greenberg.