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McAllen medical residents to graduate in June (6/17/98)

Five physicians will graduate from McAllen's Family Practice Medicine Program June 26, and most of them plan to practice in the Rio Grande Valley.

The program also will expand in July to accept the largest group of residents since it began in 1977. There will be 24 residents in the program, up from 18 three years ago.

A total of 85 physicians have graduated from the program, which staffs the UT Family Medical Center, 205 E. Toronto St.

State funding through The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has helped underwrite the expansion. The goal is to increase the number of physicians in the Rio Grande Valley, which has fewer primary care physicians than the national average.

"Up to 80 percent of our residents elect to stay in the Rio Grande Valley because they come to our program with an interest in living and practicing here," said Juan J. Trevino, MD, director of residency program.

The graduating residents have spent three years treating hundreds of patients at the McAllen clinic and in rotations with hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices. Residency is challenging and rewarding, the graduates say.

"The hours are long and hard, but I enjoy the patient contact, and making people understand what is going on with their bodies," said Francisco Calica, MD, who graduated from the UT Medical School at San Antonio in 1995.

Dr. Calica's path to physicianship is rare. He received a degree in biochemistry from The University of Texas at Austin in 1978, and worked as a firefighter for the city of Austin for 11 years before entering medical school.

"Being a doctor is a bit like being a fireman," he said. "We handle many high-risk obstetrics cases, and you get a rush of adrenalin in emergency situations just like when you are at a fire." Dr. Calica, raised in San Antonio, plans to practice in McAllen.

Letreise Winkfield, MD, another graduating resident from the Health Science Center in San Antonio, said residency is the most important experience of her medical training. "Nothing you have learned in books becomes quite so clear as when you confront a situation in the clinic and realize you are responsible for that patient's health," Dr. Winkfield said. She plans to practice in McAllen.

Residents say they also learn humility.

"Just when you think you know enough, something happens to let you know you can never stop learning. No one ever knows enough, and someone who thinks they know it all is in for trouble," said Nick Aguilar, MD, a graduating resident from the Health Science Center in San Antonio. Dr. Aguilar plans to enter a rural practice in Nevada.

Two other physicians will be graduating. Maria Arango, MD, of the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico, plans to join her husband's practice in McAllen. He is Dario Arango, MD, who also graduated from the McAllen program. Guillermo Cortinas, MD, also from the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, practiced obstetrics in Matamoros, Mexico, for 10 years, and has completed his residency to become licensed in the United States. He plans to practice in the Rio Grande Valley.

Medical school graduates usually must complete three years of residency training before they begin independent practice. Training concentrates on clinical casework under the supervision of licensed physicians.

The residency program has received special funding from the state's South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative to offer positions to more medical school graduates. The program is supported by the Physicians Educational Foundation and affiliated with the Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Funding from the South Texas/Border Region initiative also has helped establish another residency program in Harlingen at Valley Baptist Medical Center. The program's first four doctors will graduate at the end of June.

Contact: Jim Barrett, (210) 567-2570