Med school’s founding dean stepping down

EDINBURG —After two years of leading the creation of what is slated by many as one of the greatest steps forward for the region — the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine — Dr. Francisco Fernandez announced he will be stepping down from as dean of the school effective Friday.

“I am going to follow my heart and step down to continue and focus my work on bringing health equity to the Rio Grande Valley,” Fernandez said in a news release sent Wednesday afternoon. “This has been the most amazing journey, and I couldn’t have imagined anything more fulfilling for me. And like Ronnie Milsap sang so eloquently, ‘I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World.’”

Along with the position of dean, Fernandez will also be leaving the post of vice president of medical affairs. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in the news release he expressed his gratitude to the UT-System and UTRGV for the opportunity to lead the department for the last two years.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said they will appoint Dr. Steven Lieberman, professor and senior dean of medicine at the UT-Medical Branch in Galveston, as interim dean at the School of Medicine while they conduct a search to fill the permanent position.

University officials will start the search next month and the expectation is to fill the position within one year, Bailey said.

Fernandez spoke to Bailey about his decision on Tuesday and made the official announcement to staff and students Wednesday afternoon, Bailey said.

“He’s the person who began the school of medicine and recruited the first cohort of students,” Bailey said. “It was very important that he remained until the first cohort was in place and we began the first class.”

Details on his new role within the school are not concrete yet, but the announcement comes only days after Fernandez introduced the inaugural student cohort at the medical school.

“I’m in an emotional roller coaster,” Fernandez said Tuesday during the introduction of the first class of medical students. “It is enormously fulfilling to know that kids from the Valley now have a place to call their own. This is their medical school.”

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dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com