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Sen. Hinojosa, the primary author of Senate Bill 24, which created UTRGV and its School of Medicine, calls the graduation of the first group of 39 medical students a “truly historic moment” for the region - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Dr. Leonel Vela, Senior Associate Dean for Educational Resources, and Senior Associate Vice President for Education, School of Medicine, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, addresses the inaugural Class of 2020 of its 39 graduates on Saturday, May 9, 2020, as part of a virtual ceremony which took place on the Internet.



Sen. Hinojosa, the primary author of Senate Bill 24, which created UTRGV and its School of Medicine,  calls the graduation of the first group of 39 medical students a “truly  historic moment” for the region

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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who served as the primary author in 2013 of Senate Bill 24, which established the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine, said the recent ceremony featuring the first graduating class of 39 medical students represented a “truly historic moment” for deep South Texas.

Hinojosa said the graduation ceremony, which took place on Saturday, May 9, 2020, was a landmark event – “a moment that for many of us has been a longtime dream.

“When the UTRGV School of Medicine opened its doors in Fall 2016 with its first class ever, there was incredible excitement and celebration as we began to finally see decades of visions come to fruition. But we also knew one thing – the real transformation would begin once we started graduating students as physicians,” the senator recalled. “That is exactly what happened last Saturday (May 9, 2020) for the first time in the Rio Grande Valley.”

In addition to Hinojosa serving as the primary author of Senate Bill 24, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were authors.

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the House member whose signature appears on the original measure, and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the House of Representatives has joint authors.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, was the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 24, while Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, was a sponsor.

The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, along with all of the other state representatives for the Rio Grande Valley, in 2013 served as cosponsors of, and/or voted for, Senate Bill 24.

“This morning (Saturday, May 9, 2020), theUTRGV School of Medicine held the graduation ceremony for its inaugural class of medical students,” said Canales, who currently also serves as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation. “In 2013, I proudly served as one of the lead (cosponsors) of the legislation that created the School of Medicine because I knew the school would be game-changer for our region. As we work to increase healthcare access, the School of Medicine has been an incredible local partner over the past seven years. Congratulations to the UTRGV School of Medicine Class of 2020.”

The co-sponsor is a legislator who joins with the primary sponsor to guide a bill or resolution through the legislative process in the opposite chamber. A cosponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber from the one in which the measure was filed.

Also listed as cosponsors of Senate Bill 24 were: Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya; Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

“The creation of UTRGV and the School of Medicine was historic. It took decades to get a medical school that could provide the healthcare and educational benefits the Valley so desperately needed and deserved. Having a medical school in the RGV has been beneficial for many reasons,” Hinojosa said. “Our community has increased the number of residency slots from 35, in 2010, to more than 200, meaning more doctors are not just training here, but likely staying to serve our community,” 

In medicine, a resident is a physician who has finished medical school and is receiving training in a specialized area, such as surgery, internal medicine, pathology, or radiology. Board certification in all medical and surgical specialties requires the satisfactory completion of a residency program and successful completion of a specialty board examination.

“The School of Medicine is also laying the foundation to become an emerging research university. And, without knowing it at the time of its creation, having a medical school in our region has helped us to rapidly respond to the health care needs due to the coronavirus pandemic,” he added. “This is a proud moment and huge achievement for South Texas and I know it is just the first of many more accomplishments to come.”

The senator noted how the UTRGV School of Medicine was able to quickly begin operating COVID-19 testing locations.

“What’s more, the UT Health RGV Clinical Lab, also known as the UTRGV Center for Vector-Borne Disease, is playing a key role in the Valley’s response to the pandemic. The lab – which normally focuses on viruses like Zika – now is helping with COVID-19 testing,” Hinojosa said. “Also, the UTRGV Psychology Clinic has been providing a confidential phone service called a ‘warmline’ to help community members with a free counseling telephone service for individuals experiencing emotional and mental distress related to the ongoing coronavirus challenges.”

Those are just some of the services and benefits that South Texans are reaping from the 200 medical school students, the faculty, and researchers from the School of Medicine, he said. 

“Just a few weeks ago, the 39 graduating students were matched to their teaching hospital and I am pleased to report that seven of our medical school students matched with a hospital in the RGV. This means they will be staying in our region to complete their medical training and treat those in need in our community,” Hinojosa reported. “We expect this number to increase as more Valley students are admitted to the School of Medicine. More than 50 percent of the students enrolled last year were from the Valley, and another 25 of the incoming 55 students are from here as well.”

A teaching hospital is a hospitalor medical center that provides medical education and training to future and current health professionals. Teaching hospitals are often affiliated with medical schools and work closely with medical students throughout their period of matriculation, and especially during their clerkship (internship) years. In most cases, teaching hospitals also offer graduate medical education (GME)/physician residency programs, where medical school graduates train under a supervising (attending) physician to assist with the coordination of care.

However, transforming the dream of a medical school into a reality for the Rio Grande Valley required a team. 

“It would not be possible without the vision and tireless commitment of our Valley legislative delegation, our local public officials, and our business and community leaders. It also wouldn’t be possible without the leadership, dedication, and tireless work of Dr. Guy Bailey, Founding President of UTRGV, Dr. John Krouse, Dean of the School of Medicine, and the faculty and staff that are part of the medical school,” Hinojosa said. “This is a proud moment and huge achievement for South Texas and I know it is just the first of many more accomplishments to come.”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UTRGV School of Medicine held its special commencement celebration for the Class of 2020 through the Internet.

“It was a virtual ceremony, a poignant way to honor the challenges these graduates will face as they head into the world in a time of pandemic and global upheaval, a time when their dedication to human life is more critical than ever,” reported Dimitra Trejo, Communications Manager for the UTRGV School of Medicine. “Online participants and visitors heard messages from UTRGV and UT System leaders like (former State Senator) Kevin P. Eltife, Chair of the UT System Board of Regents; Dr. Nolan Pérez of Harlingen, who also serves on the UT System Board of Regents; James B. Milliken, Chancellor of the UT System; Bailey; and keynote speaker Dr. Kenneth Shine, former Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the UT System.

In his broadcasted remarks, Krouse congratulated the 39 students on their milestones.

“You will forever be honored as the charter class from our medical school, and the first to proudly carry the UTRGV name across the country as you enter residency training,” Krouse said. “This is an important day, not only in your careers but also in recognition of the years of hard work and dedication the Rio Grande Valley community has invested in making this medical school a reality and in bringing you to this very special day.”

Dr. Leonel Vela, Senior Associate Dean for Educational Resources, and Senior Associate Vice President for Education, School of Medicine, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said the virtual ceremony was a unique way to acknowledge the School of Medicine charter class, while still practicing social distancing in the time of COVID-19.

“Seeing the Charter Class of 2020 students finish their medical school journey and transition to their residency programs brings a great sense of joy and fulfillment,” Vela said. “While we wish we could have celebrated the ceremony in the traditional manner, we remain extremely proud of these new physicians, and applaud the faculty, staff and administration who have dedicated their time and effort in preparing them to enter the next phase of medical training.”

The graduates now are headed to residency programs throughout the United States.

UT System Regents approve the proposal for the new doctoral program within UTRGV School of Medicine


The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, approved a degree proposal for a Doctorate in Human Genetics at the UTRGV School of Medicine.

The next step is for the Board of Regents to submit the proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for review of criteria and appropriate action the fall. If approved, the doctoral program will admit seven students per cohort starting fall 2021.

The proposed doctoral program, designed to address the growing need for researchers in human genetics and genomics in South Texas, is for a full-time, four- to five-year, research-focused degree with a total of 72 credit hours.

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs said the new doctoral program will focus on developing the next generation of independent scientists in the fields of human genetics and genomics.

“This program will provide intensive research training. It is designed to develop researchers prepared to face the unique health challenges of the Rio Grande Valley and across South Texas,” Krouse said. “We are excited about the research possibilities it offers and the results it could yield for understanding the molecular etiology of complex diseases.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the field of human genetics is vital not only for the School of Medicine but also for the region.

“Human genetics play an important role in how we look at diseases, especially those prevalent in South Texas,” Bailey said.  “We are thrilled that the Board of Regents supports the research and demand for human geneticists in the region.”

The UTRGV School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics is dedicated to working on common diseases with high prevalence in South Texas, such as diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease.

Some existing resources to the program will include the UTRGV’s School of Medicine’s South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute Genomics Computing Center in Brownsville, and UTRGV research facilities in Edinburg, San Antonio and Brownsville.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.


Victoria Brito contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

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