The state of Texas is facing a primary care physician shortage, with Texas’ ratio of 204.6 patient care physicians per 100,000 people well below the national average of 247.5, according to the Texas Medical Board.
The four-county area that makes up the Rio Grande Valley, unfortunately, is one of the regions facing the greatest need for physicians, especially those who can communicate effectively with residents who solely or primarily speak Spanish.
By 2030, the Valley is projected to have the highest absolute need, with the shortage of full-time equivalent primary care physicians expected to grow from 423 to 722 by that time frame, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Health experts believe that lack of access to healthcare, coupled with a lack of medical insurance coverage for the low-income residents in the region, is having a negative effect on our overall health as a community by contributing to a growing prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
But South Texas Health System McAllen’s residency program is helping alleviate the problem.
On Friday, June 23, the STHS McAllen Family Medicine Residency Program held a graduation ceremony for the six graduating members of the Class of 2023, with at least two of them confirming that they’ll remain in the Rio Grande Valley to serve the local community as they launch their medical careers.
Originally from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Miguel Tamayo has established roots in the Valley since he started the residency program three years ago. After completing the program, he’s now looking forward to working in emergency medicine at South Texas Health System Edinburg.
“I belong to this culture, so I know how to treat the patients and I know how to approach them, so they feel more comfortable and are more likely to follow the prescribed health regimen,” Tamayo said. “Knowing the culture, knowing the people, being a part of it —those were important factors in my success in this program.”
“There’s a great need here, especially for family medicine doctors. Having more of them available can help bring down hospitalizations of people who could have received treatment earlier had they gone to see a doctor,” Tamayo said. “Primary prevention is the most important and the best way to prevent diseases.”
Chief Resident Andreina Prado Garcia, originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela, will also be staying in the Valley to practice at the McAllen Veterans Affairs Clinic.
Prado Garcia said completing her residency program with STHS McAllen allowed her to gain professional experience within a diverse community that demonstrated great appreciation for her work.
“In the Rio Grande Valley, patients are very grateful — they have a lot of respect for physicians, and they respect our guidance,” Prado Garcia said. “The Valley is a beautiful mix of different cultures which makes it easier to feel at home, so I can now call the Valley my home and I’ll be staying here to continue to serve this community which I now feel part of.”
Prado Garcia is especially excited to be launching her medical career by giving back to the veteran community, an underserved group that has sacrificed so much for all Americans.
“It’s bittersweet because we’re done, and it’s hard to believe, but it has been an incredible journey,” Prado Garcia said. “This program is amazing. I would choose it again without a doubt because it has been the greatest experience I’ve had a chance to be part of.”
In addition to Tamayo and Prado Garcia, the other residency graduates include Yasser Martull, Lester Rios, Juan Rodriguez and Yainer Rodriguez. All six graduates are board certified.
Dr. Sunand M. Kallumadanda, the program director, said the program graduates obtain a comprehensive, robust experience because theirs is the only training program that takes place at the facility. That allows them to tend to patients from their admission into the hospital, all the way through their discharge, and then in the follow-up care they receive.
“My goal is to train family medicine doctors who can go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of the people they serve. Whether they dedicate their time to primary care or want to work in facilities as hospitalists, or do both, it’s our mission to give them the education and training they will need to succeed,” Kallumadanda said.
He praised the graduates for their selfless work and their perseverance under the perilous circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The residents began their program just as COVID-19 was emerging as a global threat and they stepped up to meet the need of the community.
“This is a group of individuals who are really special because they had to take on the brunt of COVID-19, treating hundreds of patients,” Kallumadanda said. “They were on the front lines and risked their own lives to tend to the ill, so they deserve a lot of kudos for taking on that challenge. I’m very proud of them.”
The three-year residency program is a partnership between South Texas Health System McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. It was established in 1977, with its first cohort graduating in 1980. Since its creation, it has trained more than 200 physicians.