Raising the Bar for Clinical Care


Dr. Michael Hocker has big plans for meeting the needs and demands of the healthcare community in the Rio Grande Valley.

This year, the UTRGV School of Medicine received over 7,000 applications, and only 55 students were selected. According to Hocker, 35-38% of the students in medical school classes are from the Valley. UTRGV has created a pipeline to take high school students and undergraduates through medical school and residency training.

“I think it’s exciting as we look at the kids of the Valley who now can stay here and get a great undergraduate education, but then come to a phenomenal medical school and one of the most diverse in the country,” he said.

Hocker added that 50% ot this year’s students will be staying in Texas, with 20% staying in local programs to complete their training. Others leaving the state do so to attend prestigious residency programs, including two students who will attend Mass General Harvard and others at Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Cedars-Sinai, Cornell, and Emory.

One student from the Valley, Adriana Saavedra-Simmons, was accepted into the Harvard program but plans to return to the region after her residency. This student is just one example of how the medical school can create a full circle for aspiring med students.

While it is important to cultivate local talent, it is just as important to recruit talent.

“We’re no longer a new medical school, but we’re still evolving,” Hocker said. “We still have so much work to do here as we develop departments and specialties. There’s still a tremendous shortage of physicians and especially specialists.”

He is grateful for the alignment of the community, the University of Texas System, the state, and partnering hospitals to make it all possible.

“We’re not just developing the next generation of physicians, but true physician leaders, and we want to do that in innovative ways while providing high-quality specialty clinical care in those areas that don’t exist here,” Hocker said. “Raise the bar for clinical care.”

UTRGV Medical School faces a unique challenge, as its mission is like none other in the rest of the country. There are degrees of poverty and a lack of access to specialty and primary care.

“We have great people, but there is still so much to do,” Hocker said. “I can’t wait to see what medicine looks like in the Valley in 10 to 20 years, and what we can do to change and impact that — to transform the health of the Valley.”

Hocker prefers to keep the attention on the work being done at the medical school.

“It’s not about me — I’m a person who believes in leadership development, and good leaders are servant leaders,” he said. “It’s really about how I can make this institution better, how I can make the people who work for me and with me better, and really impact our community and provide service within our community. I think that’s the legacy UTRGV needs to leave. I’m fortunate to be in a leadership position, but it has nothing to do with me.”

Some unique opportunities set UTRGV apart. The Rio Grande Valley has significantly higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and Alzheimer’s.

“How do we change that, and how do we change the health of the people in the Valley through our research and discovery?” Hocker asked.

Many patients in the RGV are forced to travel to surrounding cities or regions to receive specialty care. A marker of success for Hocker will be when residents can get the same level of care here.

For example, “we don’t need people to leave the Valley to go get quality cancer care,” he said. “You should be able to get that advanced life-saving, high-quality clinical care here in the Valley.”

UTRGV has a full accreditation site visit coming in February 2023. Hocker’s top priority is to have a medical school that meets accreditation standards.

“It’s not service to our community, it’s service within our community,” he said. “It’s not just the education or the high-quality care, but how do we really become the fabric of the community we live in and serve it? The entrepreneurship of how to create a sustainable school of medicine that supports all of those different missions and things we need to do. ”

To learn more about Hocker and the UTRGV School of Medicine, visit uthealthrgv.org.

Katie Goodman