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UTHSC medical students explore RAHC opportunities in Harlingen (5-14-01)

First-year medical students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have begun rotating through Harlingen, the site of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) Medical Education Division scheduled to open in July 2002.

Over a six-month period, 90 students from the class of 2004 are spending six days apiece in Harlingen, evaluating the city and the RAHC as the possible location of their third and fourth years of Medical School. While in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the first-year students continue their classwork via teleconferencing, video conferencing, Internet lectures and CDs. At the same time, they receive an overview of the Valley’s medical resources and its unique medical problems by shadowing private practice physicians.

“The levels of excellence in education at the RAHC will equal if not exceed what is available in San Antonio,” said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center.

The geographically separate campus will maintain the Medical School standards and will be able to offer unique insights in the practice of medicine because of its location. Dr. Cigarroa said students will be attracted to the RAHC by the opportunity to practice community medicine, a slightly different perspective on delivering health care.

In July 2002, the RAHC will welcome its first group of 24 third-year students into accredited programs in internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry and family practice medicine. Clerkship electives for fourth-year students will begin one year later.

Comments from the students in early rotations at the RAHC were positive and confirmed that the visit provided a good introduction to clinical teaching in Harlingen. “There are many more opportunities here for students to learn than I had imagined,” one student said. “It has helped me see the great opportunities and reflect on it (the RAHC) as being a possibility for third and fourth year,” said another.

Leonel Vela, M.D., regional dean in the Medical School and the leader charged with overseeing the RAHC, said the clinical faculty will be drawn mainly from community practitioners. The principal outpatient training site for RAHC programs, Su Clínica Familiar, is building a new facility near the RAHC. The existing Su Clínica already serves as a site for internal medicine and ob/gyn clinical training rotations for selected third- and fourth-year medical students.

Note: A digital photo of participating students with UTHSC faculty is available upon request. Contact Natalie Gutierrez at (210) 567-6814 or send an e-mail to gutierrezn@uthscsa.edu.