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Starting the legacy 55 students from across the country welcomed at UTRGV medical school orientation

Kaitlyn Hall speaks to reporters during the news conference held on the first orientation day in the Edinburg Medical Education Building for the charter class of the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Hall, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Methodist University, was among the first 55 students accepted into the class. Also shown (from left) are Ramiro Tovar, Corey Fuentes and Vania Nwokolo. BRYAN RAMOS/ THE RIDER

Almost six months after receiving the call of acceptance, Ramiro Tovar walked into the Edinburg Medical Education Building with a smile on his face and a golden pin on his suit showing the UTRGV School of Medicine slogan, “One Community, One Mission, One Solution.”

Tovar was among four students who talked to the news media on the first day of the Foundations for Success orientation held Monday morning.

“Basically, since [I was] little, I wanted to be a doctor,” said Tovar, one of the 55 students accepted for the first class of the new medical school. “Eventually, I took my MCAT,  I did my research, I applied. I got several interviews. I got the one here and I was super excited. I was actually in between other interviews when I got the acceptance here basically telling me, ‘You know, if you want, you’re in.’ This was my No. 1 choice since the beginning.”

The orientation will take four weeks and students will start their first module day on July 25 in the Edinburg facility.

“We’re all eager and excited to get over the orientation and everyone wants to get started in their trajectory soon,” School of Medicine Dean Francisco Fernandez said during a news conference. “The matching was extraordinary in terms of interest to even the interviews. Texas finished with their interviews when we were starting. … We were full to the brim every single weekend that we had the interviews because of the great interest in the focus of the school. Remember that we are interested not just in all their academic achievements but we’re also interested in them as a person.”

Fernandez announced Wednesday that he will step down as dean and vice president of medical affairs.

After being granted preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education last October, the new medical school received 2,784 applications, interviewed 226 applicants and ranked 182 to eventually finalize the list to 55.

“We added another five students to the 50,” said Dr. Leonel Vela, senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs in the school. “We were granted to do that through our accreditation process. A school of medicine can accept 10 percent and beyond.”

The charter class is composed of 28 women and 27 men; 50 are from Texas and five from out of state.

Under Section 13 of the 2014 Texas General Appropriations Act, a school of medicine cannot have more than 10 percent out-of-state students in a class.

Among the out-of-state students is Victoria Ragland, who received a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the University of California Los Angeles.

“I wanted something very similar to the environment where I grew up, where I can actually give  back,” Ragland said. “I did my undergraduate in the big city, in Los Angeles, where services were very readily available. I had access to all the medicine that I wanted and I could go to any doctor that I wanted; and where I grew up, it was very different from that. It was in the [San Fernando] Valley, where there are almost no physicians. So I wanted to go to a place where I could actually help and contribute to getting that access.”

Ragland said she hopes to go into psychiatry after graduating from the school.

“We started accepting applications for year two in May. We’re almost at 5,000,” Fernandez said. “We have, of those, over 800 that are qualified. We are already amazingly surprised at the great interest because our focuses are different. People have to be able to be willing to serve as patient advocates, be basically motivated to a life of service in a community that is most underserved and will most likely benefit the greatest.”

Members of the charter class will be presented with a white coat in a ceremony at 10 a.m. July 23 in the Performing Arts Complex on the Edinburg campus.

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