BY Jennifer L. Berghom
EDINBURG — The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has been awarded $4.2 million from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to expand its Graduate Medical Education programs at the School of Medicine.
The grant will enable UTRGV to grow its existing medical residencies at Valley Baptist Medical Center (VBMC) in Harlingen and create new ones at Valley Baptist and Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco.
The money received from the THECB grants will help fund residents’ salaries and educational needs that the programs may have. UTRGV also received funding to develop a Pediatrics residency program.
The VBMC program uses its grant funds to pay for residents’ salaries since it was approved to expand from 15 to 30 residents, said Dr. Yolanda Gomez, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education at UTRGV.
“Having the opportunity to apply and compete for these grants helps us plan and develop new residency programs that are needed in the Valley to provide comprehensive and quality care to the entire community without having to leave the Valley for treatment,” Gomez said. “At the same time, we will be training physicians who can also become part of our School of Medicine and continue with our mission.”
Dr. Francisco Fernandez, founding dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, said the grant shows the state’s support of UTRGV and its medical school in providing health care for the region and in closing healthcare access disparities.
“The School of Medicine is grateful to the Texas Legislature for its generosity,” Fernandez said. “With these funds, the School of Medicine will continue its mission of training community-minded physicians and improving the lives of Rio Grande Valley residents. This latest support will help us to promote the message that the health of the Rio Grande Valley is our primary concern.”
Texas State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who played an integral role in the creation of UTRGV and the School of Medicine and who was instrumental in supporting state funding for GME, applauded the grant allotment.
“It is great news that the UTRGV Medical School was awarded $4.2 million to expand residency programs and residency slots,” Hinojosa said. “This funding was made possible by the Legislature’s increased commitment to GME, and I was proud to joint-author SB 18 that promotes residency expansion programs and places emphasis on Texas’ most critical shortage areas. I will continue to advocate for continued GME support and growth to keep our doctors practicing right here in the Rio Grande Valley so that we can reduce our physician shortage, provide more care for our families, and ensure that our medical school is successful.”
UTRGV has residencies with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, McAllen Medical Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center, with 69 medical residents currently working in the areas of family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and general surgery.
The coordinating board also awarded $6.39 million to Doctors Hospital at Renaissance to expand the medical residency programs it has with UTRGV.
The latest grant will help UTRGV support approximately 30 resident physicians. In total, UTRGV now will sponsor more than 120 residents in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including those at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Gomez said.
The grant will provide UTRGV:
· $2.1 million for its existing internal medicine residency at Valley Baptist Medical Center.
· $1.3 million for its new psychiatry residency at Valley Baptist Medical Center.
· $450,000 for its new family medicine residency at Knapp Medical Center.
· $300,000 for its new pediatrics residency, which is still in development.
The School of Medicine plans to have six medical residents start at Knapp in July 2017.
Knapp Medical Center in December 2015 broke ground on the 12,000-square-foot Knapp Medical Center/UTRGV Family Practice Residency Clinic at Expressway 83 and Mile 2 in Mercedes; construction is expected to be completed this fall.
Statewide, the THECB awarded more than $49 million to medical schools and hospital systems. Of that, the Rio Grande Valley received $10.59 million.