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Updated 6/20/02

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The RAHC building

Building a dream
by Aileen Salinas

The faculty is preparing, students are visiting, construction is ongoing - and in two short months, the Health Science Center's Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) becomes a reality.

Already equipped with more than 100 expert faculty and plans to purchase the latest and best medical technology, the RAHC will prove to be a top medical education and research outreach of the School of Medicine. The Harlingen component, which will serve as RAHC headquarters, celebrates its grand opening on June 28.

"Our faculty are getting ready and looking forward to the first class in July 2002. Their clerkships are preparing them to teach medicine in the Rio Grande Valley. Students also are benefiting," said Leonel Vela, M.D., regional dean, the RAHC.

Each year, 24 third-year and 24 fourth-year students will attend classes at the Harlingen component. These students will gain an understanding of the unique health conditions in the Rio Grande Valley while shadowing physicians at Valley Baptist Medical Center (VBMC). The first class arrives July 1. But these aren't the first medical students to train here.

The Health Science Center began sending students to Harlingen for four- and six-week clerkships about two years ago.

"Even though I grew up in the Valley and I know the cultural and social issues there, I had never viewed them in the context of medicine. It was good for me to see things through a new looking glass," fourth-year medical student Alberto Pena said.

"The responses we have received from students who have been visiting for the past two years have been overwhelmingly positive. Students tell me that both the experience and the quality of education have been excellent," Dr. Vela said.

The RAHC's medical programs are solidifying and gaining recognition. Last summer, the Internal Medicine Residency Program earned accreditation by the Residency Review Committee. All of the six primary care specialties (family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, surgery and psychiatry) became fully operational this year.

Adela Valdez, M.D., is the RAHC's newly appointed assistant dean. "Dr. Valdez brings a wealth of experience with her. She understands the health concerns of the area and is well respected by the medical community," Dr. Vela said. Dr. Valdez also is the RAHC coordinator at the VBMC.

RAHC construction is in full swing. The Harlingen facility is nearing completion and design plans for the research facility in Edinburg are finalized. Soon a second facility in Harlingen will be planned since the Texas Legislature awarded the Health Science Center $25.5 million in Tuition Revenue Bonds to support the project.

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