EDITORIAL: Big boost: Donation to medical school a step toward prominence

The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation presented the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with a historic gift of $38 million dollars. The donation will be used to establish THRIVE, a project which is aimed at Transforming Health Research in the Valley and Elsewhere. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

America’s most prominent medical schools — the Mayo Clinic, Harvard and Johns Hopkins, for example — are known for more than producing some of our nation’s top physicians; they also conduct ground-breaking research that advances health care and patient treatment.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine has just received a major boost toward joining that elite group of institutions.

The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation has donated $38 million to UTRGV that will fund a program called THRIVE — Transform Health Research in the Valley and Elsewhere — establishing what is intended to be one of the nation’s top biomedical research programs.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey and medical school Dean John H. Krouse announced the donation Tuesday at the university’s Clinical Education Building in Harlingen, saying it’s the largest single donation in South Texas higher education history. The Legacy Foundation also donated $15 million three years ago to establish the UTRGV Institute of Neurosciences, which is currently under construction.

Krouse said the gift will help fund research in areas that include childhood genetic research and regenerative medicine, expanding the work of the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute. The university will also provide residents into the general surgery program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.

This helps fulfill the dreams of many Valley residents who advocated for a medical school in South Texas for decades. Not only does it provide valuable educational opportunities for our top students who no longer have to leave the Valley to study, but it also helps provide medical professionals who can help address the chronic lack of doctors in the region. Even now, UTRGV residents and interns are helping provide medical care to more residents than ever before.

Most importantly, it’s great to see the support our medical community across the Valley has given to the institution. That wasn’t always the case. While the UTRGV medical school is just five years old, it took more than a quarter century to make it happen.

On the heels of a 1993 Texas Supreme Court ruling that the lack of higher education investment in the border area was discriminatory, and a legislative pledge to support education along the border, Valley officials began courting the UT System hoping to establish a medical school south of San Antonio, where none existed at the time. As the system began planning the Regional Academic Health Center in the Valley, system officials sensed resistance from many doctors who apparently saw the new center as competition. Then-UT Chancellor William Cunningham made it clear that without local support there would be no medical school.

Fortunately, that support grew among medical professionals, and continues to help the still-nascent medical school grow and thrive.

The Legacy Foundation donation is the latest proof of that support, and we are confident that it will inspire continued investment from the Valley’s medical community.