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      Gov. Perry signs bill for Valley medical school

      Governor Rick Perry ceremonially signed a bill in Harlingen Tuesday for a 4-year medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.

      The next big hurdle is funding the school, which will be called The University of Texas Health Science Center-South Texas.

      "In order to get the support of the Board of Regents, we're going to have to find serious philanthropists around the country that will put some money on the table," explained State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D - District 27).

      Sen. Lucio estimated the upgrade to convert the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen into a health science center will cost almost $150 million to build the necessary infrastructure.

      "That includes a teaching hospital with 150 beds: 75 beds for indigent health care and 75 beds for our veterans, so we can have inpatient services," added Sen. Lucio.

      The new health science center and medical school would service 14 counties and enhance what the RAHC is now.

      Currently, medical students can only fulfill their last two clinical years at the RAHC after completing their first two years at the University of Texas-San Antonio campus.

      The new health science center would keep students in the Rio Grande Valley for all their schooling, possibly resulting in more doctors staying to practice in the valley.

      "Here in the Rio Grande Valley, applications are up 18 percent for physician licenses and about 200 more doctors are practicing here today than were in 2003," said Governor Perry.

      Sen. Lucio said he expects most of the progress, including accreditation and funding, to move forward with 2011 legislative session.

      "According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, all studies indicate that we should be very close to reaching a consensus to get this done as soon as possible," Sen. Lucio explained. "I'm already in talks with potential donors."