It took ten years to get, but El Paso got it. And now, the Sun City’s first four-year medical school, the Texas Tech Paul Foster School of Medicine, has opened its doors to its second freshman class.
“The very beginning was intimidating,” recalled 2009 freshman Brandon Fuqua, 29.
Now in his second year, Fuqua – originally from Garland, Texas near Dallas – said he had little apprehension about enrolling at a newly-accredited medical campus.
“The fact that it was a new school didn’t really have any effect on me,” he told ABC-7. “I really liked (El Paso) and the people at the school. I knew this would be home.”
Aparna Atluru, originally from Kingwood, TX, said the Foster School offered opportunities for hands-on learning that she couldn’t find at other medical schools around the country.
“You get to work with the patients in the first two years rather than just read your books,” she said.
Foster Founding Dean Dr. Jose Manuel De La Rosa helped developed the school’s unique curriculum.
The teaching includes requiring all students to learn Spanish as well as pairing them with local families to check up on.
De La Rosa explained the latter helps students build community bonds and a more realistic view of health.
“There are other things besides your body and mind that affect your health,” he told ABC-7. “There are certain stressors on a family. If your grandfather has cancer, you live a very different life than if your grandfather doesn’t cancer.”
De La Rosa said a few logistical things needed to be tweaked for this year’s freshman class.
But overall, he considers last year a success.
While the second-year students are seemingly happy now, De La Rosa says the next move is keeping them happy and, in turn, keeping them in El Paso once they become doctors.
Here’s the way it works right now:
Students go to college for four years. Then, they have another four years at the medical school. Once they graduate, they still have three years of internal medicine training at a hospital.
But then, if they want to specialize in something like cardiology, they have to move away to get that training.
That practically pushes students like El Paso-raised Benjamin Ramos away from the ‘Sun City.’
“I would like to stay here,” he said. “But that’s dependent on what I choose to go into.”
That’s why Dr. De La Rosa wants to bring that specialty training here; before those students take off and make a career in a bigger town.
“We’re looking to build those programs so nobody has to go to, say, Chicago,” said De La Rosa. “And then, all of a sudden, they meet their spouse in Chicago and they have three kids and then they’re never coming back.”
Little by little, specialty training is arriving in El Paso.
Some of the evidence can be seen outside De La Rosa’s office window.
University Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital is set to open in the spring of 2012.
De La Rosa told ABC-7 the children’s hospital should bring in pediatric specialties the Foster School can then build fellowships around.
Other specialties, like neurosurgery, should follow he said.
De La Rosa added El Paso just needs to keep building clinics and hospitals to lure specialists, hoping to have enough specialty training to keep all students in the borderland by 2016.
He said in the meantime, his educators will work on building medical minds at the Foster school and building an appreciation for El Paso.
…The seed for homegrown health care that already seems to be taking root; at least with Fuqua.
“I’ll tell you right now, I knew nothing about El Paso,” he said. “It’s really different than Dallas, different in a good way.”