The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

UTRGV School of Medicine

When you come to a fork in the road, take it...

“When I woke up this morning, I dragged a sensor across my head and found my cells at night had gone awry. For some reason, cancerous cells were going amuck on my 120th birthday. I went upstairs and my tri-corder, confirming the findings, simultaneously rid me of my neoplasm in seconds. No one spoke yet I received contented, celebratory statements until I boarded my inflatable starship at ‘Just Read the Instructions’ to start the day with the first of 10 pan-galactic house calls.

How is that for 2115 Rio Grande Valley medicine! It has all the makings of sci-fi but not too far from reality, maybe a 100 years from now. Not all that unbelievable like the unbelievably fast year that has passed since Susan and I were warmly welcomed to the Valley. And yes, we are glad that when we came to that fork in the road, we took it.

As we celebrate our first year I wake up thinking about how y’all will celebrate UTRGV School of medicine’s 100-year anniversary. But in our present reality, we deal with daily events and developments – each one bringing us closer to the dream of opening the doors of the institution that will transform the lives of South Texans.

President Guy Bailey and I have been using this word “transform” a lot in reference to UTRGV and the UTRGV School of Medicine, yet I can think of no better word when it comes to improving lives through our initiatives in education and health. The creation of a new school of medicine is a tall order, requiring talent and dedication on the part of many and, in the making of the medical school; we have been blessed with many blessings. Let’s count them …

  • We begin with the hospitals in the Valley’s cities - all working with us to establish on-site training and residency programs for our first cohort of 50 medical students, who will begin classes in fall 2016. They joined us in our efforts to attain accreditation of our undergraduate medical education program by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, our M.D. degree program by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, our residency programs by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, and our continuing professional education initiatives also have to have approval from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education … You get the picture. With their support, they are part of the new culture of excellence in medical education in the Valley.
  • Another blessing is our faculty. I could not have asked for a better cadre of scholars than those at UTRGV. The accreditation work is grueling – yet all agree, it is equally, if not more, invigorating. All the faculty is committed to our goal of providing education that is state-of-the-art in terms of the advancing the science of medicine with technology in concert with a humanistic approach.
  • An added blessing is all the individual investments and philanthropic foundation support we have been the beneficiaries of. Within weeks of my arrival, Dr. William C. Head, M.D., a distinguished orthopedic surgeon from Dallas, granted the medical school its first major contribution – a $600,000 gift to establish the Jean Marie Rodriguez-Ayers Scholarship – to benefit UTRGV’s inaugural class of medical students. Others followed and in one year, we are 40% to our goal for a debt-free inaugural class.
  • With a combined $4,523,342 in grants from Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, H-E-B, United Health Foundation fostering interprofessional, team based care and our research initiatives, we are off to a great start. Now add the $4,750,000 from Hidalgo County, and the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr to support our medical school programs to maintain its high level of excellence and expand promising programs to build the medical school of the future and our learning environment will be second to none.

On the day I was announced, I said what I said…and meant what I said,

“I am excited and humbled by this tremendous opportunity to build the UTRGV School of Medicine into a world-class educational center. The chance to build a medical school from the ground up in a region as richly diverse and wonderful as South Texas is a dream come true.”

We will value the richness of this heritage in the Valley’s communities along with the core principles of our blueprint for success DEPTH (Diversity, Excellence, Professionalism, and Total Health). Our program ethos prioritizes social responsibility, respect, dignity, sensitivity, sensibility, advocacy and community service – all in the service of improving health at the individual and community level.

As I go around the country, I often get asked, “How are you going to do all this? How are you going to do all this by 2016? How are you going to do this in the Valley?” As I close my first year in the Valley and suffer through withdrawal from the Florida Grapefruit League Spring Training, I guess I have baseball on my mind. In 1973, the New York Mets were 10 games out of first place.

Yogi Berra was coaching them and was asked about their chances that year. In true form to Yogi, he replied:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The Mets went on to rally and on the next to the last day of the season, won the Division Title.

The communities that welcomed us, rallies around us every day to make the medical school come true. And then, in my own words, “To be part of an initiative like this that will have so much impact, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience … I promise you, I will not let you down.”  So to use another Yogi malapropism,

“We have DEPTH”. 

Thank you for the honor of serving you.

Dr. Francisco Fernandez
Inaugural Dean, School of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs