The UT Health RGV/Knapp Family Health Center in Mercedes sits across the street from a high school for medical professions.
For Dr. Miguel Tello, the proximity of the health center he oversees to the South Texas ISD High School of Medical Professions is more than symbolic. It points to the range of possibilities now available to Rio Grande Valley youth.
“The whole cycle” is how Tello puts it in noting that it’s possible for a Valley student to attend the specialty high school then someday go to the UTRGV School of Medicine. The student can eventually proceed to do his or her residency at the Mercedes health center.
It all points to the growing influence and presence of the UT Health Rio Grande Valley throughout the region. It has more than 20 clinics featuring a variety of specialties such as neurology, pediatrics, women’s health and urology. UT Health is the clinical wing of the UTRGV School of Medicine and through its clinics and a mobile facility, is connecting to the region and improving health care access.
“I don’t think many people in the Valley realize the large net we have,” said Linda Nelson, the senior director of clinical operations for the UTRGV School of Medicine. “We’re about the transformation of health care in the Valley.”
Connecting to the Valley
It’s a transformation based in its medical education facilities in both Harlingen and Edinburg. The clinics that have now fanned out to nearly every part of the Valley. The medical school educates students through the first four years of their training. The clinics then provide the residency component in the post-medical school phase with real life applications with patients.
The RGV/Knapp Family Health Center is but just one example. Tello, a native of Edcouch-Elsa, is the center’s program director and is also the chief of family medicine at Knapp Medical in Weslaco. Tello and other practicing physicians on the UTRGV School of Medicine staff supervise residents continuing their education and training. The residents are from all over the country. Tello says it gives the students a connection to the Valley that may eventually lead to them staying in the region.
“We integrate ourselves into the community,” Tello said of his staff at the Mercedes health center. “They (residents) know that when they come here.”
There is a “grow your own doctors” aspect to the school of medicine and its many clinics, Nelson said. Beyond that, there is the component of providing medical services to Valley residents through the clinics. The health center in Mercedes, for example, is open to everyone, from Winter Texans to high school youths needing physicals. It takes private insurance as well as health coverage tied to government programs.
“We’re not here to take anyone’s patients,” Nelson said. “We want to augment what was already here and improve access (to health care).”
Nelson envisions the Valley reaching the stage where its development of medical facilities and expertise will reach that of San Antonio and its own UT medical school.
“We’ll get there,” she said. “I don’t want anyone leaving the Valley to get health care.”