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Vista Summit: Health
Dr. Juliet V. Garcia 
November 28, 2012

Last spring, a state-wide task force released the third in a series of reports called, CODE RED: The Critical Condition of Health in Texas.  

We have one of the stars of that Code Red report with us here today, Dr. Ken Shine, who spearheaded the research and much of that work. 

The report described the impending crisis Texas is facing regarding the health of its population, which will profoundly influence the state’s competitive position nationally and globally. The health of Texas, economically, educationally, culturally and socially depends on the physical and mental health of the population.  

The Task Force emphasizes that the economic vitality and security of Texas depends on the health of its workers, students, and families. 

We also know that access to good healthcare is not evenly distributed. The Institute of Medicine was the first to report in the 1990s that racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are less likely to receive equal routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services. In the Rio Grande Valley, our geography compounds this disparity as we have access to fewer physicians and dentists than our fellow Texans in all other parts of the state.  

And as I was driving here yesterday, I was noticing how many billboards there were announcing emergency centers. And the reason that’s the case, is because that’s the primary health provider, in many cases, for our population.

 Can you guess what one of the top 10 last names in the United States is right now? There are more than a million Mr. and Mrs. Garcia’s, making it the 8th most popular name in America. 

Six out of 10 of us were born right here in the United States, so as my husband often says when you start talking about the border wall, it’s too late!  

And for the next two decades, 50,000 Hispanics will turn 18 each month.  

  • Will they grow up healthy, or plagued by diabetes and tuberculosis?
  • Will they be academically prepared to go to college or will they become high school drop outs?
  • And will there be medical schools and graduate programs awaiting them with open doors, or will they continue to vie for just a few slots designated for minority or first generation students? 

We have an extraordinary opportunity before us. We have a living laboratory, right here in the Rio Grande Valley, to see how quickly, how efficiently and how effectively we can ramp up health education and develop programs that will benefit communities, much like us, across the nation.  

The immediate questions before us today are: 

  • What is it that we can we do to ensure a healthy future for the generations of Texans yet to follow?
  • What can we do in the Valley to educate a diverse student body that is culturally and linguistically competent?  

The answers lie in the students among us like Diego Alemán. 

Diego came to UT Brownsville from Lopez high school four years ago. He had spent his childhood watching his father suffer from diabetes and was determined to enter the health field and make a difference for others.  

Scarce finances prevented Diego from thinking about going off to college elsewhere. He knew that UT Brownsville had a nursing program, so he applied and was accepted. After a year of college, however, Diego’s eyes were opened to the many pathways available to him throughout the UT System and he promptly set his sights on medical school to fulfill his dreams of becoming a physician.  

With mentoring and scholarship assistance from UTB’s Office of Health Professions Careers, Diego became a Biology major and took part in a prestigious a prep-course for the MCAT exams, a course few students in our region can afford.  

This spring Diego graduated magna cum laude from UT Brownsville, received notice of his exemplary MCAT scores and, last July, he began medical school at UT Health Science Center San Antonio. In eight years he will complete his medical degree and plans to return to the RGV to the Valley as a family physician. Imagine how many people will live better lives because of the opportunities that allowed Diego to pursue his own dreams. 

We know that our students can be competitive and successful in medical school. We know that they aspire to spend their lives helping others, discovering new cures and ending this cycle of poverty and lifelong illness. We know it because, like Diego, hundreds of other Valley students have attended UT Pan American and UT Brownsville and from there, have been successfully launched to medical schools, schools of dentistry and other important allied health programs. 

We know it because for years, our nursing programs at UTPA and UT Brownsville have been producing nursing graduates that pass their state boards at above the state average and have high paying jobs waiting for them immediately after graduation.  

But what we also know is that in spite of all that we’ve done, we still have too few physicians, too few scientists searching for cures, too few nurses and physicians assistants to serve the growing population in the Rio Grande Valley. 

I think one of the hardest parts of our work here, is that as impressive as our growth has been , and as impressive as our production of graduates has been - in terms of doubling the size of the nursing class, doubling the number of students who get into nursing school – the Valley continues to grow faster than all of the extra production we’ve been able to put into place. As a matter of fact, the nature of our population is such that if you could stop all in-migration today from everyplace in the world, and you could close every bridge going south, it is going to continue this fast-paced growth for the next three decades.    

Every year we turn away students just like Diego that want more and that are prepared to study hard, work hard and persist and persevere. We turn them away because there are too few slots available in our nursing programs, too few seats for them at our medical schools, and too few clinical sites for them in which to do residencies.    

Our Chancellor has chosen to set the goal of ending this cycle of too little, too late. He has chosen instead to fling open the doors of opportunity for students in the Rio Grande Valley and to do so in great part through regional cooperation and the synergy we generate here today. It is in our hands to forever end the legacy of diabetes, obesity and heart disease being what one generation inherits from the next in the Rio Grande Valley. 

I, like many of you, grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. I, like you, have lost too many in my family to these diseases. I, like you, imagine a brighter future for my children and for theirs.

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