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UIW medical school growing closer
August 10, 2016

Robyn Madson, founding dean of UIW's new medical school, is shown with David Reynolds (left), Texas Osteopathic Medical Association executive director, and David Garza, its president.

By Elizabeth Lepro, STAFF WRITER
Express-News

Road for campus to open; officials reviewing student applications

A career in primary care isn't for everyone, says Dr. David Garza, a family practice physician from Laredo: It takes someone willing to work long hours, put off paying student debt and spend time forming good relationships with patients.

According to local health officials, not enough Texas medical students fit that mold. Which is why the University of the Incarnate Word, administrators say, is investing in a medical school, hoping to foster a new generation of primary care doctors.

The new $50 million UIW School of Osteopathic Medicine will open at Brooks City Base next summer, its construction funded by private donors and the university. The campus will comprise seven buildings on 23 acres.

Today, UIW President Lou Agnese and other officials will cut a ribbon to open the Kennedy Hill Roadway, which provides access to the new campus. The administration building already is open and houses numerous staff; renovation work continues on the other buildings, with an eye toward historic preservation.

Dr. Robyn Madson, founding dean of the new school, said administrators are reviewing more than 1,000 applications, which will be narrowed down to 150. The emphasis, she said, is on keeping doctors in the Lone Star State, where rural and low-income areas desperately need them.

"The whole curriculum is based on social accountability," Madson said.

The financial allure of specializing in fields such as radiology and emergency medicine has created a dearth of family doctors in rural and South Texas, according to Garza, who is the incoming president of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association.

Even when Texas students do decide to go into osteopathic family medicine, they have to either compete for a limited number of residency positions in the state or go elsewhere.

A 2012 report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board projected that if more than 200 residency programs did not open up by this year, at least 180 medical school graduates would leave the state to get their residency requirements. Graduates are still leaving.

"Last (legislative) session, pretty much every group involved in health care all came to Austin with the same message: 'We need more residency programs in Texas,' " said state Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gates-ville, who serves on the House Appropriations and Public Health Committee.

Legislators worry that taxpayer money spent on educating medical students - more than $30 million annually - is being wasted, as Texas graduates settle down in other states.

Last session, under Senate Bill 18, the Legislature budgeted $54 million for primary care residencies, which is expected to more than double the amount of residency positions in the state by 2018.

The end goal is to provide 1.1 residency slots for every one medical school graduate, which means that Texas would be able to train its own students as well as import medical students from other states for its residency programs.

"It comes back to, if we raise our own and train our own, they stay here," Sheffield said.

UIW has a team focused specifically on developing residency programs nearby, Mad-son said. The goal is to open some of those positions before the first class graduates from the new medical school.

"I think (four years) should be enough time if the people invest in it," Madson said.

For now, UIW is pursuing two avenues: pushing for the creation of more residency programs and pushing its students to go toward primary care.

"I don't think the school is looking to create a bunch of brain surgeons (or) heart surgeons - not that we don't need them, but we need primary care more than anything else," Garza said. "That's something that UIW is going to do, they're going to crank out 150 (doctors of osteopathy) every year."

llepro@express-news.net

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