AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A widely celebrated effort to open a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley won unanimous approval in the Texas House on Tuesday but not before a tense exchange over what impact the facility would have on a statewide doctor shortage.
The bill that would open a medical school as early as 2016 along the underserved Texas border is among the least controversial measures in the Legislature. Gov. Rick Perry has backed the idea, and a Senate version easily cleared that chamber last week.
Yet as the House took its turn to vote, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston sought a reality check about what dent the yet-to-be-named medical school would make on a physician crunch in Texas.
The Texas Medical Association and other trade groups warn that the rapidly growing state is not churning out enough doctors to serve 25 million residents and counting. The bill that unanimously passed in the House on Tuesday is carried by Democratic Rep. Rene Oliveria, who said the medical school would add nearly 150 residency slots in the short term.
When Oliveria suggested that Davis didn't understand the proposal, she swiftly interrupted him.
"I was here to be in support of your bill, and not for you to condescend to me," Davis said. "My concern is that I don't want anyone in this House chamber to think that because of this new medical school we're in any way going to solve the doctor, physician shortage that we have in this state."
Oliveria said beefing up the number of residency slots can be achieved through separate legislation. Supporters of the medical school point to research showing that about 70 percent of doctors wind up practicing in the state where they complete their residency.
The University of Texas System already has pledged $100 million for the project. The bill would also combines UT campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville with a Harlingen health center that is currently operated by the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The new university also would gain access to the state's Permanent University Fund — the endowment that manages billions of dollars to support higher education.
The new university is projected to enroll 28,000 students, employ 7,000 people and generate $11 million in research expenditures.
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