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1,000+ celebrate Regional Academic Health Center dedication

A $25 million beacon of medical education in Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley — the Regional Academic Health Center's Medical Education Division — ceremonially opened today in this city to the applause of more than 1,000 Valley residents, the state's governor, Valley elected and community leaders, medical students, faculty and resident physicians, and University of Texas System leaders.

"Thank you to the elected officials who made today possible, but a particular thanks to 24 courageous young men and women who are really making this possible." said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the featured speaker. "Thanks also to the professors — those of you in the medical profession who are going to impart your extraordinary knowledge to these young men and women who are going to make a difference in the Valley of Texas in so many lives. That's what today really is all about — changing the Rio Grande Valley forever."

"This Regional Academic Health Center faculty is an outstanding and dedicated group of physicians," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), which administers the RAHC Medical Education Division and the planned RAHC Medical Research Division an hour away in Edinburg. "In the entire United States, fewer than 300 Mexican American physicians serve as medical school faculty members. The opening of the Regional Academic Health Center nearly doubles that number."

President Cigarroa said the 94,000-square-foot, three-story Harlingen facility is perhaps the most impressive of all the buildings associated with the Health Science Center. "To all those in the Valley who have had a role in making this center a reality, thank you. You deserve the best from The University of Texas System and the UT Health Science Center — and today the Valley is truly getting the best."

The RAHC's first head, Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean in the School of Medicine, said: "This building is about the preparation and training of the next generation of young physicians, especially those who will serve this region of Texas."

President Cigarroa also announced a five-year, $1.46 million grant from the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg, Jr. Foundation to provide a medical scholars program for the RAHC. The Kleberg Scholars Program will support UTHSCSA resident physicians in the Valley Baptist Health System, specifically at Valley Baptist Medical Center, which is adjacent to the RAHC Medical Education Division. Each Kleberg Scholar at the RAHC will receive a $10,000 per year award, and Valley Baptist Medical Center also will receive a $10,000 per year allocation for each Scholar.

The Honorable Cyndi Taylor Krier, member of the UT System Board of Regents, accepted the building on behalf of the Regents. Other speakers included Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who authored legislation establishing the RAHC; Representative Irma Rangel, chair of the House Committee on Higher Education; Connie de la Garza, mayor of Harlingen; R.D. Burck, UT System chancellor; and Ben M. McKibbens, FACHE, Valley Baptist Health System president and CEO.

The Medical Education Division is at 2102 Treasure Hills Blvd. in Harlingen. Steven A. Wartman, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for academic and health affairs and dean of the UTHSCSA School of Medicine, and Dr. Vela ushered the platform party and the first group of RAHC students into the building.

The Texas Legislature appointed UTHSCSA to operate and oversee the RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen and the RAHC Medical Research Division in Edinburg. On July 1, 24 third-year students from the UTHSCSA School of Medicine and eight resident physicians begin their educational experiences at the RAHC.

Contact: Aileen Salinas or Lucie Portela