Thursday, May 9, 2024
  Announcements, Academics, Around Campus, Health

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 9, 2024 – The UT System Board of Regents on Thursday approved UTRGV’s proposal to establish a new School of Optometry along with a new Doctor of Optometry, or OD, degree.

Thursday’s approval was the first step in the development process, which will take several years and require additional approvals from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, SACSCOC and the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education. UTRGV could welcome its first School of Optometry class as early as Fall 2027, becoming just the third optometry school in the state of Texas. 

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the UTRGV School of Optometry will meet several needs in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It will bring in high-quality Doctors of Optometry to train the next generation, so our students can access their dreams without leaving the region,” Bailey said. “These clinical faculty will also make specialty treatment accessible for our communities.”

He said the program will prove pivotal in contributing to the diabetes research, management and care UTRGV already is providing in the region.

“Diabetes is most often first diagnosed in the eyes,” he said.

According to the state’s Health Professions Resource Center

  • Texas has fewer optometrists than the national average, and areas of provider growth are uneven. Metropolitan and non-border areas have at least twice the number of licensed optometrists per capita.
  • 11 percent of the 4,318 active licensed optometrists in Texas currently are over the age of 65. By 2030, about 25 percent of the licensed optometrists in Texas will be at or past retirement age. 

The school is expected to enroll about 40 students per cohort, and will require approximately 15 full-time faculty – a mix of research-active science faculty and clinical faculty licensed in Texas.

UT Regent Jodie Lee Jiles, chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee, ended the committee’s approval vote with an enthusiastic, “Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding.”


The new OD degree program at UTRGV is a four-year, 189-credit-hour program intentionally modeled after the five optometry programs in the United States with the highest national board examination pass rates.

Foundational science instruction will provide knowledge in physical, biomedical and behavioral sciences, including problem-based learning, evidence-based medicine, anatomy, physics, neuroanatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology, among other subjects.

Additionally, in preparing future optometrists to diagnose, monitor and treat conditions affecting the eye and ocular adnexa, the professional doctoral-level curriculum calls for approximately 1,500 supervised patient encounters, rotating through optometry areas including family practice, glaucoma, pediatrics, low vision, cornea and contact lens, and externships.Top of FormBottom of Form


As supervised students will be providing optometric services and outreach to the primarily Hispanic communities of the Rio Grande Valley, the curriculum integrates Rio Grande Valley- and Texas-specific eye health issues such as diabetes, and offers electives designed to develop fluency in medical Spanish terminology and practice.

Students will gain experience in specialty services in optometric practice, such as pre- and post-operative surgical care, diabetes, dry eye, myopia control, vision therapy, neuro-optometric care, and working with special populations.

The UTRGV School of Medicine and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute will collaborate in these research and clinical activities.

“With the establishment of this Optometry school, our graduates will ensure that the Rio Grande Valley community’s vision remains healthy and able to focus clearly on success,” Bailey said.


In a separate action, Regents also approved the purchase of two adjacent tracts of land at 1720 Treasure Hills Boulevard in Harlingen, next to the existing UTRGV Clinical Education Building (HCEBL).

The land, totaling about 1.81 combined acres, includes a vacant 9,094-square-foot medical support facility, which was formerly the Ronald McDonald House that closed in 2021.

UTRGV acquired this land and the vacant building from Valley Baptist Medical Development Corporation and Valley Baptist Realty Company, LLC. The new space will allow for expansion of the School of Podiatric Medicine.

Dr. Javier La Fontaine, dean of the UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine, said the expansion is an exciting sign for the future. 

“The need for podiatric services and professionals is growing every year,” he said. “The new facilities will allow us to provide the critical research lab and clinical spaces required for our high-quality students, faculty and staff to grow, as well.”


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.