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Thursday, May 3, 2012

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UT System Regents Authorize Next Steps for Medical Schools in Austin, South Texas

AUSTIN – The University of Texas System Board of Regents today (May 3) authorized UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., to move forward with plans to establish medical schools in Austin and South Texas. The action by the Board affirms Chancellor Cigarroa’s goal of expanding medical education and research programs in the two regions as outlined in his Framework for Advancing Excellence Across the UT System.

“This is a great day for Texas and The University of Texas System,” Cigarroa said. “These two new schools and related residency programs will have their own unique features, and their respective paths, but together they will each fulfill the need for advancing medical training, developing a health care workforce in rapidly growing areas of the state that have substantial physician and health professional shortages, increasing biomedical research, and improving health care for Central Texas, South Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley. The medical schools will also lead to the commercialization of discoveries made by their researchers and significantly strengthen the economic vibrancy of their local communities and regions, while more importantly bringing these life-saving discoveries to the patient’s bedside.” Cigarroa added.

The two motions regarding the Board’s action are available online (Austin || South Texas).

“The Board's action today shows our enthusiastic support for the establishment of medical education and health care in the state,” Regents’ Chairman Gene Powell said. “The new medical schools in South Texas and at The University of Texas at Austin will provide more physicians and health care providers and will offer additional opportunities for comprehensive treatment options for these important regions of our great state. In addition, the medical schools will provide substantial increased levels of cutting-edge medical and health care research in South Texas and Austin,” Powell added.

The Board publicly and explicitly acknowledged its commitment to the development of a medical school in South Texas, contingent upon the following factors:

  • Current state funding for the Regional Academic Health Center as part of the UT Health Science Center – San Antonio must continue and increase, with that funding eventually shifting to directly support the new medical school. 
  • Successful residency programs must be established across Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties, and farther up the Rio Grande into Webb County, to support education and training for a medical school.
  • In the absence of discretionary funds under the control of the Board of Regents, operating funds for a medical school in South Texas must be provided from local communities and the region – along with the additional state funds – so that there will be adequate funding to sustain the ongoing operations of the school of medicine.

“For the past 15 years, we have been working diligently to lay a solid foundation for a medical school in South Texas,” Cigarroa said. “This is a house built on rock. The Board of Regents, the UT System, and our elected leaders in that region, including State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., are committed to this initiative. We have had outstanding conversations this past year with legislators and representatives from corporations, foundations and business in the Valley who support medical education in their region.”

In his remarks to the Board, Cigarroa expressed several compelling reasons why UT Austin is well prepared to establish a medical school, and why in turn it will bolster the university’s national reputation, augment breakthrough biomedical research, and enhance health care for the people of Central Texas and the world.

The vast majority of the top medical schools in the U.S. are associated with a large university, and research expenditures generated from universities with medical schools are significantly higher than those of universities without medical schools. The establishment of a medical school at UT Austin will further strengthen the comprehensive research university’s competitive position among America’s finest public universities.

Cigarroa said Austin is one of the few cities of its size in the nation without a medical school. And he acknowledged the comprehensive community effort, led by State Sen. Kirk Watson, and the strong relationship the UT System, UT Southwestern and UT Austin have with the Seton Healthcare Family through an affiliation agreement. Seton currently funds and supports 200 UT Southwestern Medical Center residents in 14 medical residency and fellowship programs and supports 133 full-time faculty members who teach residents and medical students, in addition to 149 volunteer faculty members.

“This is a paradigm shift in Texas from the current model of separate universities and health science centers spread across the state,” Cigarroa said. “The educational and research relationships of UT Austin will dramatically and positively change with the establishment of a school of medicine. And for this reason, I believe there is a strong and compelling rationale to provide funding for this effort by increasing the Available University Fund distribution rate from 45 percent to 48 percent and allocating appropriate STARS funding to help recruit faculty for the school of medicine.”

The increase in the AUF allocation is anticipated to provide an additional $25 million a year in funds to UT Austin. The Board also allocated $5 million for each of the next eight years to help UT Austin recruit outstanding faculty. The financial commitments of the Board of Regents are contingent upon the continuation of the Seton Healthcare Family support of graduate medical education residency programs and clinical faculty positions at current or increased levels, and the availability of reliable and continuing funding of $35 million annually from local community sources for the direct support of a medical school at UT Austin.

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