More than 90 medical school students are one step closer to donning their white doctor coats after graduating from Texas Tech University of Health and Science Center on Friday at the Plaza Theatre.
The in-person ceremony celebrated 91 students from the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. They will now enter three-year residencies to learn a medical specialty of their choice.
El Paso native and recent graduate Dominic Betancourt will be completing his residency in internal medicine in his hometown.
“I need to give back to the community that has given me so much,” he said.
He is one of 14 students staying in El Paso. The other 77 graduates will be completing residencies in other cities of Texas, Arizona, and elsewhere in the United States, according to school data.
Dr. Richard Lange, president of the university and dean of the medical school, said that while students are completing their residencies outside of El Paso, many plan on coming back.
“Even though they’re off, they recognize what a great community it is and how underserved it is,” Lange said. “They’re committed.”
Lange said that students are taught a culturally competent education and understand the needs of a specific community no matter where they go next.
Betancourt said he realizes the cultural mistrust that El Pasoans and Hispanics may have toward the medical community, but hopes to break the barrier.
“Serving the community means, to me, understanding the perspective of the community,” he said. “I have lived here long enough to know the culture because this is my culture.”
Betancourt said he’s met patients who have not received medical care for nearly their entire lives and others who may not have access to medical care because they lack insurance. He wants to change that.
“I would like to be a community advocate and care for the people,” he said.
Students in the graduating class can already claim two significant real-world experiences in their short careers: working and studying through a pandemic and treating victims of the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart.
“I think we’re a peculiar class for the experiences we’ve gone through,” Betancourt said.
Lange said that these students are more than ready for the real world.
“They have first hand knowledge, not textbook knowledge, not watching YouTube videos,” he said. “(They have) first-hand knowledge of being in the trenches and caring for patients.”
Lange said the school is looking to expand its class size to 150 within the next four years.
“This is the highest number we’ve had,” he said.
Recent enrollment numbers bode well for that goal
Enrollment at the medical school increased 19% between last fall semester and the upcoming semester, according to school data.
Betancourt said he would do it all over again if given the chance.
“This is certainly a landmark we’re all proud of. I’d do it all again if I could, even knowing, (about) nights with no sleep,” he said. “It really is my calling and I couldn’t be happier.”
Cover photo: Brinda Chellappan, center, is among the 91 graduates in the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine Class of 2021. She was hooded at graduation ceremonies on Friday by Dr. Tanis Hogg, assistant dean and chair of medical education, left, and Dr. Gordon Woods, associate professor and internal medicine physician. (Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso)