Special Reports

Keeping graduates in El Paso a challenge for Paul L. Foster School of Medicine

ABC-7 SPECIAL REPORT: Keeping local...

EL PASO, Texas - When Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at Texas Tech University in El Paso received full accreditation in 2013, the hope was the school would help spur economic growth and increase the number of doctors in the Borderland.

"My father's a physician in Mexico so I always saw him going to his clinic," Ivan Ramirez said. "I always saw that and really liked that. I learned a lot from him and he inspired me to become a physician myself."

Ramirez is a fourth-year medical student at Texas Tech of El Paso. He grew up in El Paso, and said at a very small age he knew he wanted to be a doctor.

Countless hours of studying has gotten him closer to the finish line. "I've got one semester and a few months left and I'll be a doctor," he said.

Ramirez said he wants to stay in El Paso to complete his residency. Every physician in the U.S. must have a license to practice. You can only get that after completing extensive hands on training with real patients. The average program is about three years.

ABC-7 has learned not many students stay in the Borderland to complete their residency.

Over the past four years, 2%-8% of the students listed El Paso as one of their top choices for residency and the percentage of students from El Paso is declining. Half the students in the class of 2013 were from El Paso, but only 1/3 of the class of 2021 are from El Paso.

"The do not have to specify once they start their residency where they're going to practice," Dr. Armando Meza, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education said. "But the statistics show many of them may end up practicing closer to where they train, even though its not an absolute or requirement."

As for why students leave, Dr. Meza said one of the reasons may be because they have a lot of options.

"(It) doesn't mean that our institution does not offer them the options they would like to have, but in a free market everyone is wanting to choose the best possible selection of their program," Dr. Meza said.

Dr. Meza said there are about 300 potential residency positions available in El Paso. In a typical year, they fill about a hundred of those slots.

"That should be enough for the interested individuals to match with any of our training programs here in El Paso," Dr. Meza said. "It's an important distinction to make that they have the whole nation to select from. They can see their options to train in a craft that is probably more specialized then may be available in some cases here. The fact that they leave doesn't mean they are not coming back."

He said the school is working to show students the advantages of staying, like low cost of living and a short commute from their homes to training sites. He said the west-side hospital facility will also hopefully expand training opportunities, noting the school is still in the early stages.

"The medical school is really in the beginning stages of development," Dr. Meza said. "I strongly believe that you will see the numbers improve over time. I would say if we were to look at these statistics a few years from now, we're going to see a big change in the placement that this actually occurs."

Class size has grown every year since 2009.