Thursday, September 15, 2022
  Around Campus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The most recent – and largest –group of the Physician Assistant Career Track (PACT) Early Assurance Program for high school students is now enrolled at UTRGV.   

PACT, in the university’s Department of Physician Assistant Studies, College of Health Professions, allows high school students to enter the Early Assurance Program, which provides a seamless transition into the master’s program.  

The program is designed to help South Texas high school students interested in a future career as a physician assistant by providing career pathways through the program. 

UTRGV’s PACT selects a limited number of high-achieving area students who begin their undergraduate career at UTRGV, while also receiving conditional admission to enter the university’s College of Health Profession’s Master in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) upon graduation. 

To qualify for PACT, students must:

  • Be in the top 5 percent of their high school graduating class. 
  • Have at least a 3.7 GPA.  

The program only accepts 10 students per academic year, and to date, only five have been admitted to each cohort.  

However, this past spring, the program accepted eight students, the largest number to be accepted. Once students complete their undergraduate requirements, they can then apply to the program. Certain criteria will mean automatic acceptance.  

“If they maintain honors status, we would have a seat waiting for them in the graduate program,” said Angelica Urbina, PACT program coordinator. 

As long as prerequisites are met, the students may pursue any major, but the majority often major in science- and health-related fields.  

Urbina said that, with each new cohort, students increasingly arrive more prepared and qualified.  

“Every year, it seems like the students we are getting are higher achievers,” she said. “They have more college hours; they have more community service. It is getting more and more competitive, because they have just all these opportunities for them in high school.” 

The newest PACT students are:

  • Damaris Cantu (UTRGV Collegiate High School). 
  • Scarlet Elizondo (PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School). 
  • Ana Ramirez (Valley ViewHS). 
  • Tori Villarreal (Edinburg North HS). 
  • Ivan Gonzalez (Mission HS).
  • Greeshma John (UTRGV Mathematics and Science Academy).
  • Blanca Ochoa (Los Fresnos HS).
  • Jacklyn Espinosa (Hidalgo ECHS).

“The PACT program is a tremendous boost for admitting our local Valley students from a very competitive pool of more than 2,000 applicants,” said Frank Ambriz, department chair and clinical professor in the UTRGV Physician Assistant program. “Local students completing the PACT program will be academically prepared to succeed in our program. We welcome their accomplishments.” 



Scarlet Elizondo, from San Juan, decided to pursue the PACT program as a pathway to give back to the community.  

“I decided I wanted to pursue the PA career after really understanding my personal interests, strengths and goals,” she said. “One of the best ways to give back to members of my community would be by directly contributing to their well-being. That’s why, when I discovered UTRGV’s PACT program, I was extremely motivated to get a head start and apply.” 

Dual Enrollment courses put Elizondo ahead in her college education. She is entering the PACT program with 62 college credit hours and holds an associate degree in biology. She also took capstone courses to enrich her medical knowledge at PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-Stem Early College High School, where she participated in the HOSA Future Health Professionals. She also completed a phlebotomy certification course, which gave her hands-on exposure in the medical community.  

In the PACT program, Elizondo hopes to expand on her foundation in the healthcare community.  

I expect to study more clinical topics and gain in-depth knowledge about specific diseases, their development and their treatments,” she said.  “I also look forward to learning about the practical side of the PA profession and acquiring the skills necessary to perform specific medical procedures.”  

Elizondo chose UTRGV to stay close to home and to utilize the programs and resources UTRGV offers its students.  

“I believe the culture the university is surrounded by is extremely unique,” Elizondo said. “Being able to work with peers and professionals who have a deep understanding of the local community – as well as the partnerships the university has with facilities within the Valley – facilitates targeting issues the area faces and permits direct positive impact.”  

Jhoana Rivera, a senior in the first cohort of the PACT program, joined the program to be able to study healthcare and still stay close to home. 

The Hidalgo ECHS alum will graduate in Spring 2023 and currently is in the process of finalizing her application and requirements for the PA program at UTRGV to enter in Fall 2023.  

“The PACT program has provided me with the security and motivation to protect my academics, properly prepare myself, and network within the PA program before entering,” Rivera said. 

“What I find unique about being in the PACT program is that, despite being conditionally / pre-accepted, I have immersed myself in the PA profession and continued to demonstrate my inclination to learn,” she said. “Because of the PACT program, school excites me and I am fully motivated.” 

For more information about the PACT program and the UTRGV Department of Physician Assistant Studies, visit


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.