Thursday, May 2, 2024
  Accolades, Student Spotlight, Around Campus

By Heriberto Perez–Zuñiga

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 2, 2024 – Valentine S. Alia later this year will begin a residency in general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Hopkins is a prestigious, highly competitive university with an international reputation, he said, so he is doubly grateful for the education he received at the UTRGV School of Medicine that paved the way for him.

Alia, now in his fourth year at the UTRGV School of Medicine, said the journey to medicine was not easy, but a path that has been well worth taking.

His mother was his primary inspiration in pursuing higher education; she instilled in him that he never give up, no matter his challenges.

"I grew up in a single-parent household, where my three siblings and I were raised by my mother, who worked as a schoolteacher," Alia said. "Seeing my mom work full-time while raising four kids and continuing to pursue higher education set a mental foundation for not having an excuse for not working toward any of my life goals." 


Before joining the UTRGV School of Medicine, Alia was a nurse for four years in the emergency department at Lyndon B. Johnson County Hospital in Houston. There, he gained a passion for medicine and a deep interest in serving under-resourced communities.

"The patient population in the Valley is different from any other place in the country," he said.

"Seeing how different social factors, like income, can negatively affect the health of a community as a whole has been eye-opening. It has led to my interests in health equity and critical care and has driven my passion to address health disparities and provide quality care for all."

The passion for service ultimately led Alia to pursue his residency in general surgery. He recently matched at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a program rich in history and heavily focused on public health, health equity and health service research.

"I had so much support through the residency application process from family, friends, mentors, and God," he said. "I felt content that wherever I matched, that would be the program where I was meant to be."


Alia said the academic medicine education he received at the UTRGV School of Medicine provided him with the tools he will need to succeed in his journey ahead.

"There have been so many who have helped me on this journey, and I am forever grateful to them and my physician mentors – including the entire UTRGV School of Medicine Department of Surgery – for how they have supported me throughout this process," he said. "I can't thank them enough."

Dr. Maurice Clifton, senior associate dean of Student Affairs and Admissions at the UTRGV School of Medicine, said Alia's success stands as a testament to the university’s commitment to nurturing aspiring physicians who are not only academically prepared, but also equipped with a deep sense of compassion and dedication to serving communities in need.

"We are incredibly proud of Valentine's exceptional accomplishments and the positive impact he is poised to make in the medical field," Clifton said. "He is a prime example of the UTRGV School of Medicine's mission to cultivate physicians who embody a profound commitment to serving vulnerable populations with compassion and integrity."


Dr. Michael Hocker, dean of UTRGV School of Medicine and senior vice president of UT Health RGV, said Alia’s success not only reflects the caliber of talent within the UTRGV School of Medicine but also serves as a great inspiration to many by showing them a career in medicine is possible despite the challenges they might face.

"Seeing so many of our graduating students succeed is a testament to their talent and dedication as well the hard work done by our staff and faculty," said Hocker. "Their accomplishments not only reflect the quality of our medical education program but also reaffirm our commitment to develop future leaders in healthcare who will make a difference in the lives of others."

Alia urges anyone thinking about starting a journey in medicine to start planning now. And, he said, never be afraid to reach out for help.

"Everyone who has gone through this process has been supported by those who came before them, and most are more than willing to help others out," he said. "At the same time, do not forget to thank those who have helped you. Do not forget to lift up those who are coming after you."

He thinks back to the long days his mother went through as a single working mom of four. Despite the challenges, her unwavering dedication and sacrifices laid the foundation for his success, a fact he will never forget, he said. 

As Alia prepares to walk the stage May 4 at the UTRGV School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 commencement ceremony, he reflects on one overwhelming sentiment as he concludes this part of his journey.

“Gratitude,” he said, simply. “Gratitude.”


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.