Your Medical School by Jacob Martin

Consider this: a child born today in East Texas is more
likely to live in poverty, less likely to graduate college and
more likely to die an early death than children from other
regions of the state. When faced with a medical or mental health
need, residents are less likely to find a professional to provide care
due to regional primary care and mental health provider shortages–
shortages seven to eight times worse than the state and national
benchmarks. Additionally, they are 43% more likely to commit
suicide than residents from other regions of Texas.

These realities are the present, but they do not have to be the
future. The University of Texas System’s dedication to addressing
these disparities are evident. In the past five months, UT System
has proven their commitment to East Texas. With multiple
investments in the regional UT institutions—The University of
Texas Health Science Center at Tyler and The University of Texas
at Tyler—UT System’s devotion to the advancement of the region
is evident and unparalleled by any other higher education system
in the state.

On February 27th, The University of Texas System board of regents
unanimously approved a proposal to establish a medical school in
Tyler. The school will be the first of its kind in East Texas, providing
a pathway for students to receive a comprehensive medical
education, as well as extending access to patient care, especially for
individuals living in rural areas of the region. “A medical school in
Tyler is perfectly aligned with the Board of Regents’ commitment
that Texans have access to quality education and healthcare,
regardless where they reside,” Board Chairman Kevin P. Eltife said.
“This important decision by the board is a reflection, to a great
extent, of the efforts of many community, business and healthcare
leaders and elected officials who have been deeply invested in East
Texas and worked tirelessly for years to bring a UT medical school
to Tyler.”

With the regents’ green light, UT System and UT Health Science
Center at Tyler are now authorized to work with the Texas Higher
Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Legislature and other
licensing and accrediting agencies to bring the school to fruition.
The board’s approval of the medical school—which would be
the seventh in the UT System—marked yet another significant
milestone among a cascade of recent major events to boost the
impact of higher education and healthcare in East Texas.

On February 6th, leaders from UT System, UT Health Science
Center and UT Tyler joined together at Plaza Tower in downtown
Tyler to announce a plan to elevate the region’s higher education
and healthcare opportunities, declaring their intention to establish
a medical school in Tyler. They optimistically explained their case
to a group of regional business, civic, educational and medical
leaders, as well as elected officials at a morning news conference.
This announcement of intention garnered tremendous support
from those in attendance.

Less than a week following UT System’s announcement of its
intention to launch the medical school in East Texas, the endeavor
continued to gain tremendous momentum. On February 12th,
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler received
a historic gift commitment as the first response to their call for
private and public support necessary to fund the new school.
Announced at Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler, the East
Texas Medical Center Foundation pledged an investment of
$80 million to help fund the university’s new educational
venture—aimed at significantly transforming health education,
care and outcomes in a rapidly growing region of the state.
The foundation’s monumental gift represents the largest single
contribution ever made to establish a medical school in Texas,
as well as the largest gift made to an institution or organization
in East Texas. The secured gift will assist to partially address
planning and operational costs associated with the establishment
of the medical school. Vice Chairman Janiece Longoria, who
also chairs the board’s Health Affairs Committee, noted that
the medical school would play a critical role in allowing aspiring
physicians from East Texas to not only train in the area, but to
live and practice, too.

The retention of these students as physicians is vital to addressing
the region’s health outcome disparities. With the opportunity to
obtain a baccalaureate and medical degree and then transition into
one of UT Health Science Center’s cadre of flagship residency
programs, East Texas students pursuing a career in medicine can
do so in one locale, right in their hometown. This comprehensive
educational pathway serves as a key component that translates
directly to their retention. Statistically proven, physicians tend to
stay within a close radius of where they complete their education
and training. Therefore, UT System is optimistic that establishing
this missing link will help address the existing physician shortage.
Moreover, with UT Health East Texas’ expansive network of care
sprawling across the region, the journey from student to resident
to physician can all be accomplished in East Texas.

“It’s a watershed time for East Texas,” UT System Chancellor
James B. Milliken noted. “UT institutions in Tyler, which have
played a critical role in the region’s education, health and economic
infrastructure for decades, are now on the cusp of yet another
great leap forward.” As the result of UT Health Science Center’s
partnership with Ardent Health Services and the East Texas Medical
Center Regional Healthcare System creating UT Health East Texas
in 2018, UT Health Science Center at Tyler is adding 200 new
residency slots on top of their existing offerings. This increase will
expand the pipeline of physicians who complete their training in
East Texas hospitals, aimed for them to remain in the region to
practice medicine.

“The sustained investment in our region, particularly over the
last several years, has been extraordinary,” said Kirk A. Calhoun,
MD, FACP, president of UT Health Science Center at Tyler and
board chairman of UT Health East Texas. “We are profoundly
grateful to the board of regents and UT System for recognizing
both the need and the potential in East Texas and for making it
possible for a long-time vision to become a reality.” Calhoun
continued his expression of gratitude, “The East Texas Medical
Center Foundation’s commitment to advancing medicine in
East Texas marks an unprecedented financial commitment and
vote of confidence in our university, and for that, we are eternally
grateful,” Calhoun said. “We pledge to be excellent stewards of
this gift as we serve the community. This contribution supporting
the operations of the proposed medical school will accelerate East
Texas’ ascendancy as a destination of choice for medical school
students, physicians and other health professionals to train and live;
for families to remain and industries to locate; and to significantly
improve patient outcomes.”

In addition to the recent substantial investment in November 2019,
the board of regents allocated $95 million in Permanent University
Fund (PUF) proceeds for UT Tyler and UT Health Science Center
at Tyler, the single largest PUF appropriation awarded to the city
at one time, to construct two facilities to accelerate high-quality
health education and healthcare in the region. Then, in December,
regents authorized the integration of talent and assets at UT
Tyler and UT Health Science Center at Tyler to create a unified
institution to enhance education, research and clinical delivery for
the region. An operational team composed of leadership from both
Tyler institutions, UT System and a community advisory board, is
working to move that plan forward.

The University of Texas System’s unwavering commitment
to moving East Texas forward will serve as an effort not soon
forgotten. Their investment in the region will leave a lasting legacy
for generations to come, functioning as a catapult to significantly
advance the region in a multitude of ways. As they continue to
advance education, advance research and advance healthcare, they
simultaneously improve the lives of all East Texans and beyond.

“The East Texas Medical Center
Foundation’s commitment to
advancing medicine in East
Texas marks an unprecedented
financial commitment and vote
of confidence in our university,
and for that, we are eternally