Valley celebrates first residents, interns to graduate from RAHC

Harlingen (July 6, 2004) – A significant milestone in the young life of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) took place June 22 in Harlingen as the RAHC Medical Education Division, operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, recognized the exemplary first class of RAHC graduating residents and interns.

Speakers included Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., author of the bill that established the RAHC; Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center; James E. Eastham, FACHE, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Valley Baptist Health System and chief executive officer for Valley Baptist Medical Center; Steven A. Wartman, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for academic and health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center; and Leonel Vela, M.D., School of Medicine regional dean who oversees the RAHC Medical Education Division and RAHC Medical Research Division at Edinburg.

“It is impossible to overstate how important this day is to the RAHC,” President Cigarroa said. “In every new endeavor, every new enterprise, there are the pioneers who fearlessly went first and whose success paved the way for generations to follow. These residents and interns at the RAHC have gained invaluable understanding both of the Valley’s medical challenges and of the opportunities to improve health in this region, and they have proven that graduate medical education can be offered at the same high level of quality in the Valley as it is at the School of Medicine in San Antonio.”

Sen. Lucio said: “Now when you ask a doctor in South Texas what medical school he attended, he can proudly say ‘the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, but I received a major part of my medical education at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.’ The RAHC is just a first step, but a big step toward someday eventually becoming a full-fledged medical school in South Texas.”

Dr. Cigarroa presented a white physician’s coat with the orange Health Science Center insignia to Sen. Lucio, welcoming him as an honorary doctor.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, during his tenure as a state representative, was sponsor of the RAHC legislation in the House. “I’m very proud of these graduates and pleased that people from our community can realize the dream of becoming a physician and do their clinical studies right here in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “The RAHC has been a goal we have worked to achieve for a long time, and these graduates will be the fruit of all of that labor, enriching not only the Rio Grande Valley but also the state of Texas with their knowledge and training.”

President Cigarroa thanked the entire Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation, including Reps. Rene Oliveira, Mike Wise, Kino Flores, Roberto Gutierrez, Aaron Pena, Jim Solis and Juan Escobar, and the statewide legislative leadership for “their very active role and support” in the RAHC’s development.

Rep. Solis said: “I would like to congratulate these residents and interns for their great accomplishment and for being part of the history of graduate medical education in the Rio Grande Valley. These residents and interns have paved the way for future Valley students to realize their dreams of pursuing a career in medicine. It is now our duty to continue our hard work that made the Health Science Center’s RAHC a first-class medical education campus so that many others may follow in their footsteps.”

The first residents began their post-graduate medical training offered at the RAHC through the Health Science Center School of Medicine in July 2002. The RAHC Medical Education Division in Harlingen was dedicated on June 28, 2002, at a ceremony attended by 1,000 leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, President Cigarroa, Sen. Lucio and the entire Valley legislative delegation, leaders of participating teaching facilities including Valley Baptist Health System and Su Clinica Familiar, and other Health Science Center leaders including Drs. Wartman and Vela.

“The Health Science Center is fortunate to have excellent and committed faculty and clinical teaching sites that participated in the medical training of these graduating residents and interns at the RAHC,” Dr. Vela said. “Without them, we cannot carry out our education and research missions.” The RAHC has about 300 part-time and volunteer faculty members in clinical sites throughout the Valley.

The graduating residents are Gustavo Garcia, M.D.; Mauricio Orrego, M.D.; Nolan E. Perez, M.D.; and Laxman Sunder, M.D. The graduating interns are Asma Ashraf, M.D.; Jennifer Lynn Gonzales, M.D.; Okeny Modi, M.D.; and Carlos Wade, M.D.

Dr. Perez, a Valley native, intends to practice medicine in the area after completing a fellowship in gastroenterology at Wayne State University. A former U.S. Navy physician, Dr. Perez said he entered the RAHC residency after a respected physician told him the RAHC team was first rate. “He was right,” Dr. Perez said. He also commended the faculty with these words: “We realize your job isn’t any easier with residents, yet you take the time to teach us.”

Dr. Garcia is remaining in Harlingen as the chief resident of the RAHC, a new position. He had been a practicing physician in Mexico. Dr Sunder will practice in Houston, and Dr. Orrego has accepted a hepatology transplant fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

The residents presented outstanding teaching awards to three RAHC faculty members. Dr. Hanley was cited by the residents for his leadership and described with respect and admiration as “a better search engine than MedLine.” Drs. Mohamed Nathani and Leslie Pean also received the award, and three other faculty were given recognition awards: Drs. Charles Mild, Joel Pallapati and Fernando Garcia.

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