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Education for health care professionals continues in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (10/12/98)

Funding appropriated by the Texas Legislature last year assures continued education and clinical training this year for students and health care professionals in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, according to officials with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

"We wish to thank Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. and his Valley House colleagues, whose leadership will help these South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative programs continue," said John P. Howe, III, MD, president of the Health Science Center.

"The ongoing health professional educational programs in McAllen, Edinburg, Brownsville and Harlingen are very exciting. Degree and certificate programs for nurses, occupational therapists, emergency medical technologists and dental hygienists will continue, and new physicians will receive expanded training with the help of our Valley partners in health education," Dr. Howe added.

In 1995, with local educators and health professionals, the Health Science Center began education programs as part of the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative, a state legislative project to enhance training in the region for students interested in health careers. The initiative also has similar programs in the Corpus Christi/Coastal Bend and Mid-Rio Grande Border regions. A total of $15.5 million was appropriated by the Legislature last year to support all programs over a two-year period in the three regions.

Action by the state Legislature provides funds into the year 2000 to continue the dental hygiene program at Texas State Technical College (TSTC), which plans to assume full responsibility for the program by 2001. The two-year dental hygiene program enrolls 16 students per year. In addition, support will continue for the following programs:

  • UT Pan Amís occupational therapy collaborative training program, which enrolls 20 students per year and which will transfer to UT Pan Am during 2000. Planning for UT Pan Amís master in physical therapy degree program will continue in 1998-99;

  • family practice training for third- and fourth-year medical students and residents at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen and McAllen Family Practice Education Foundation. The program enhances the number of family practitioners and health care services in the region. Internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology and pediatric clinical residency rotations in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are being planned;

  • inpatient and outpatient clinical training for the Health Science Centerís psychiatry residents at the Rio Grande State Center in Edinburg and the Tropical Texas MHMR Center;

  • a pediatric rotation for Health Science Center third-year medical students at El Milagro Clinic in McAllen;

  • increased funding for podiatry residency training at Su Clinica Familiar, Brownsville Medical Center, Valley Regional Hospital, McAllen Medical Center, the Veterans Administration outpatient clinics and Rio Grande Regional Hospital;

  • clinical rotations in the regionís community health clinics for dental students; and

  • the South Texas Center for Distance Learning and Telehealth Network, to continue the regional interactive telecommunications network to support training programs.

Funding for the South Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), based in San Antonio, coordinates and manages program activities, and support continues to the Lower Rio Grande Valley AHEC based in Weslaco. Funding was increased for local housing provided for participating students receiving clinical training at remote sites.

Texas Southmost Community Collegeís emergency medical technician (EMT) program will be expanded to include other Lower Rio Grande Valley counties.

South Texas Community College at McAllen received reallocated funds in the fall of 1997 to expand its Allied Health programs, including programs for physical therapy and occupational therapy assistants, this coming year.

Funds were approved for transition of graduate nursing programs from the Health Science Centerís School of Nursing to UT Brownsville. Eight graduate nurses are trained per year. UT Brownsville will provide funding for this program in the future.

A multifaceted health career opportunities program to attract public school and college students into the health professions received increased financial support. This program is carried out by the office of the vice president for the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative in McAllen. A second health careers program is carried out by the Lower Rio Grande Valley AHEC in Weslaco.

The Library Access Service continues to receive financial support to provide resources to the regionís health professional students, residents, faculty and practitioners.

Funding for continuing education for clinical laboratory scientists will continue to be provided by the Health Science Center; the South Texas/Border Initiative Lower Rio Grande Valley programs will continue to be evaluated by the Center for Health Economics and Policy at the Health Science Center.

Funding is ongoing for a multicomponent program involving public health training through distance learning, enhancement of local environmental health programs, planning of environmental health degree programs and support of remote masterís of public health preceptorships. This environmental and public health training program involves UTHSC Houstonís School of Public Health at San Antonio, the Cameron County and Brownsville health departments, Texas State Technical College, UT Brownsville and the Texas Department of Health.

An advisory committee composed of local health educators and practitioners from participating Lower Rio Grande Valley colleges, universities and health care organizations, in collaboration with the Health Science Center, reviews programs and budget recommendations. Additional programs with demonstrated potential are being discussed for possible funding in the future.

Note: For more local information please contact Dr. Mario Ramirez, vice president for South Texas/Border Initiatives at the Health Science Center. His office is in McAllen (phone 956-994-3300).