Medical Academy in Olmito wins first place at UTRGV med school competition

Jennifer L. Berghom, Special to the Star

By Jennifer L. Berghom, Special to the Star

UT Health RGV School of Medicine hosted its first Education Collaboration for Aspiring Health Professionals (ECAHP) competition Feb. 9, at its Medical Education Building Auditorium on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus.

Organized by School of Medicine students and the medical school’s Area Health Education Center Program, the daylong competition entailed having eight teams of high school students develop creative solutions to the healthcare challenges of people in rural South Texas.

The participating schools were:

• Harlingen School of Health Professionals.

• McAllen High School.

• South Texas Academy for Medical Professions (Medical Academy) in Olmito.

• South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High) in Mercedes.

• Mission High School.

• Raymondville High School.

• Rio Grande City High School.

• Robert Vela High School in Edinburg.

The teams of five students each presented their cases and were judged by a panel of faculty from the UTRGV School of Medicine.

The students discussed various interventions, from providing educational opportunities to residents to training healthcare professionals on methods to better convey their messages to patients.

But it was the team from South Texas Academy for Medical Professions (Medical Academy) in Olmito that garnered the top prize, for their intervention plan to address how healthcare professionals could better handle how to treat a 23-year-old woman with no insurance, who does not speak English, and who delivered her first child prematurely.

They suggested forming partnerships with local pharmacies and UTRGV to host health fairs and provide education for patients on health issues, as well as bringing in translators to help communicate with non-English speaking patients.

The students said they had trouble focusing on which barriers to prioritize, but after consulting with medical students, they determined a plan of action.

“At first, we were so overwhelmed, we had so many ideas,” said Azucena Cruz, a 17-year-old senior at Medical Academy.

The team members said they were surprised to learn about the many socioeconomic, cultural and other factors that contribute to healthcare, but were excited for the opportunity the competition provided them.

“We can contribute to fixing this,” said Briana Boughter, a 17-year-old senior at Medical Academy. “There is hope there.”

Robert Vela High School won second place and Med High took third place. The winning teams received gift cards to the UTRGV Bookstore and are invited to have their posters displayed at the School of Medicine’s annual SOM Research Symposium in September.

The competition awarded prizes to the top three scoring teams, but Dr. Andrew Dentino, M.D. and vice dean for Academic Affairs at the UTRGV School of Medicine, said all students gave excellent presentations.

“Everyone is a winner today,” he said.

The medical students modeled the competition after the SHIFT 2018 – Texas Health Challenges Case Competition the Texas A&M University College of Medicine hosted last fall. The two-day competition—in which a team from the School of Medicine competed—involved medical students reviewing case studies that highlighted healthcare challenges in rural communities. That competition provided students an opportunity to work in teams to develop innovative ways to address health disparities.

Michael Rotko, a second-year medical student from McAllen and a McAllen High School graduate, said he was excited to see students from his alma mater and other Valley schools receive this exposure to the medical field this early in their lives.

“Those are opportunities I was never exposed to as a kid,” he said. “It feels really good to be a part of something that, hopefully, will foster a different community here.”