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McAllen clinic graduates six new physicians 6/23/97

Five of the six family practice physicians who will complete their medical residency in McAllen on June 30 plan to establish practices in the local area.

"Our residents have a driving interest to practice in the Rio Grande Valley so up to 75 to 80 percent of our graduates stay here," said Juan J. Trevino, MD, director of the McAllen Family Practice Residency Program.

Medical school graduates usually must complete three years of residency training before they begin independent practice. Residency programs in South Texas strive to retain residents once they finish their training because most counties, including Hidalgo and Cameron, have much fewer primary care physicians than the national average.

The McAllen program has graduated 80 family practice doctors since it began in 1977. Recently, it began expansion to accommodate more residents with support from the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative, a state legislative program to expand health education in the Rio Grande Valley.

As for the McAllen graduates, finishing residency is exciting but bittersweet.

"I will never forget these patients. I like seeing people happy, and my patients are so appreciative of even the smallest things, simple things such as listening to them. Their appreciation is such a reward,'' said Maria Villarreal, MD, who plans to practice in Pharr with the Hidalgo County Health Care Corp.

Dr. Villarreal joined the residency program because she could be close to her family in Edinburg, where she grew up. She graduated from medical school at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The residents have treated hundreds of patients from the area, and come to feel a dedication to meeting its medical needs.

"We want to make a difference in this community. That sounds idealistic, and people say time will change your mind, but my attitude is that you have to start somewhere," said Son Nguyen, MD, a San Antonio medical school graduate who plans to practice in Mission. Dr. Nguyen is a Vietnamese refugee whose family settled in Amarillo when he was 8.

The residency program aims to encourage graduates to practice in small and rural towns, but doctors often find it hard to make a living far =66rom populated areas. The residency in McAllen helps stress the varied medical needs of the region. "We are training family practice physicians to work in smaller communities, but also to serve the needs of all of South Texas," said Dr. Trevi=F1o, associate clinical professor with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The McAllen program previously had 18 residents in their first, second and third years of training. With funds from the South Texas/Border Region initiative, the program is adding two slots per year, and will have a total of 24 residents in July 1998. Eight new first-year residents begin training July 1. The program is supported by the Physicians Educational Foundation and affiliated with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The South Texas/Border Region initiative also has helped establish a family practice residency program at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen. The first graduation will be in 1998.

The four additional McAllen residents who are graduating are:

Elizabeth Battaglia, MD, from the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion in Paraguay, who will practice in Alabama; Enrique J. Griego, MD, from the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, who will practice in Pharr; Alfredo Lopez, MD, from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, who will practice in Alamo; and Sandra Nieto, MD, also from the Health Science Center, who will practice in Pharr.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570