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Psychiatrist-neuroscientist to be founding dean of UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine

AUSTIN — Dr. Francisco Fernandez, professor and chairman of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa, will be the founding dean of the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Fernandez is returning to the Lone Star State, where he was a faculty member at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor College of Medicine from 1984 to 1997, with an appointment to the faculty of UT Health Science Center-Houston as well. He joined Loyola University of Chicago in 1997 and the University of South Florida in 2002, serving as the chairman of psychiatry in each institution. In Tampa, he also directed the university’s Institute for Research in Psychiatry and Neurosciences. Fernandez is an expert in the brain’s relationship to behavior. He currently serves as first vice president of The American College of Psychiatrists and was the recipient of the Simón Bolívar award of the American Psychiatric Association for his work in Hispanic communities.

“We are proud to welcome Dr. Francisco Fernandez back to The University of Texas family in the historic role of founding dean of the Rio Grande Valley’s own medical school,” said Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of The University of Texas System. “We are grateful to the committee members who conducted an extensive national search for this eminently well-qualified psychiatrist, neuroscientist and leader, and we look forward to the extremely important role he will play in the medical school’s formative years.”

Initially, Fernandez will report to Dr. Francisco González-Scarano, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio as well as the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, Dr. Ray Greenberg. Once UTRGV becomes an independent entity, he’ll report to the new UTRGV provost and president, as well as Dr. Greenberg.

Fernandez will play a critical role in the new medical school attaining accreditation of its undergraduate medical education program by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) and of its residency programs by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

“Dr. Fernandez is a scientist of the first rank, an experienced clinician and a top-flight administrator, and he was the top candidate identified by our nationally competitive search,” González said. “I have great confidence in the steps he will take to reach LCME and ACGME accredited status in accordance with the requirements and timelines of those governing bodies, and I am certain he will attract faculty and students of the highest caliber, including many young Valley natives who wish to stay in the region to pursue their studies of medicine.”

In a telephone interview, Fernandez said the new School of Medicine will provide education that is state of the art in terms of the science of medicine while adding a humanistic approach to education that will be inclusive. This will be accomplished within a scholarly community, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, ensuring that the best and brightest in the Valley will have an opportunity to stay and provide care in the region’s communities, he said.

Fernandez said the new School of Medicine will value the richness that exists in the Valley’s communities and the core principles of professionalism, civic responsibility, patient advocacy and community service.

Fernandez will be introduced to the Rio Grande Valley community Feb. 26 and will visit the Regional Academic Health Center and the UT Pan American and UT Brownsville campuses to meet with students, faculty, staff and community members. The assets and resources of UT Brownsville, UT Pan American and the RAHC are being combined to create UT Rio Grande Valley. The new university is expected to enroll its inaugural class in the fall of 2015. The medical school will be integrated into the university and is expected to enroll its first class in the fall of 2016.

“I am excited and humbled by this tremendous opportunity to build the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine into a world-class educational center. The chance to build a medical school from the ground up in a region as richly diverse and wonderful as South Texas is a dream come true,” Fernandez said. “To be part of an initiative like this that will have so much impact, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m eager to get started and become part of the Valley community.”

Fernandez, 62, was born in Cuba and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He received a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1974 and earned a medical degree from the Tufts University School of Medicine at Boston in 1979. He completed an internship in internal medicine and a residency in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and is board certified in psychiatry.

Fernandez and his wife, Susan, an educational consultant who focuses on dyslexia, have two children. His family emigrated from a suburb of Havana, Cuba, to New York when he was a boy. “I always joke about bypassing the Miami connection everyone thinks about,” he said.

He said his early experiences with different immigrant and minority groups in New York gave him a rich spectrum of community. “It gave me personal characteristics of not being judgmental or disparaging but being fascinated by the opportunities that were available and keeping an open mind to life,” he said.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.