The University of the Incarnate Word announced a new initiative designed to fast-track admittance of qualified students into one of its health profession programs during a press conference at the UIW’s Bowden Eye Care and Health Center on Tuesday.

Beginning this fall, the Direct Admit Health Professions program will be available to Texas high school seniors seeking advanced degrees in pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, optometry or medicine.

Dr. Lou Agnese, Jr., UIW president, said the new program will provide provisional admission into one of those UIW programs for high school students who rank in the top 5% of their class after their junior year.

UIW is offering an incentive for students seeking admittance through the new program – a $2,500 scholarship per year for full-time study, renewable for up to eight years. This scholarship is in addition to any UIW academic award for which the student is eligible and continues into the professional program.

The 3-year-old clinic, near St. Philip’s College on the city’s Eastside, is where attending optometrists and interns provide $1 million worth of free eye care services to an underserved community.

The Bowden center is also part of the private university’s growing portfolio of medical and educational offerings to students and the community.

Agnese said UIW wants to help encourage more Texan high school students, especially locals, to study health care and enter a health profession inside the state, ideally in San Antonio.

“The problem in medicine in Texas, for a number of years, is we have eight medical colleges in the great state of Texas and we graduate a lot of doctors,” Agnese said. “But 70% are exported outside of Texas. When they leave Texas, they don’t come back. They go and take care of people in New York. We don’t need our doctors, who we paid for, to go and practice in New York.”

Another challenge for aspiring healthcare professionals, Agnese said, is that many medical schools elsewhere in Texas have larger medical classes, yet most of those students typically wind up in research and other specialty fields.

The new UIW program will prioritize qualified students from around San Antonio and Texas, and help to accelerate their trek toward a healthcare career.

“Our 150 doctors per year will be in primary care, family practice, and will stay in Texas, taking care of Texans first,” Agnese said. “They’ll be taking care of our Eastside families, Southside, Northside, Texas.”

Agnese continued: “If we have a Latina or a Chinese (student) and they’re from Texas, have the same grade-point average and same scores as a student from New York, I don’t want the New Yorker. I want the Texan.”

Agnese added the on-average smaller medical classes at UIW will provide each student more personal attention, giving him or her better odds at succeeding academically and entering the workforce faster.

“We’ll get you through the pipe,” he said. Additionally, students whose high schools do not record student rankings or those who are homeschooled may still qualify for the new program if they meet certain criteria.

Agnese and dignitaries attending Tuesday’s press conference said the new program would enhance UIW’s reputation for helping to provide local students with well-rounded healthcare education.

Chief Optometrist of of UIW’s Bowden Eye Care Center Dr. Adreain Henry laughs as Mayor Ivy Taylor commends his office and selection of glasses. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Chief Optometrist of UIW’s Bowden Eye Care Center Dr. Adreain Henry laughs as Mayor Ivy Taylor commends his office and selection of glasses. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The university last month received pre-accreditation with permission to recruit students for its School of Osteopathic Medicine, currently under construction at Brooks City-Base.

Parts of the former U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine there are being integrated into the new UIW medical campus. University and area elected officials and business leaders have said the new medical school will bolster primary care in San Antonio and in underserved areas throughout South Texas.

Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was also present for the press conference, said that the new UIW program is a shot in the arm for local medical education and workforce development.

“It does not surprise me UIW is again leading the pack when it comes to healthcare education in San Antonio because the university has been doing so much for so long in our community,” she said.

She recalled when UIW’s eye care center opened in her district, during her time in City Council, before her ascension to the mayoral post.

“Now, UIW is making an even deeper connection with our community at large, opening doors to students interested in healthcare education,” she said.

Taylor and Agnese agreed that more aspiring healthcare professionals will consider UIW because it offers the most comprehensive offering of healthcare education programs among any private Texas university.

UIW awards more bachelor degrees to Hispanic students than any other private/faith-based universities in the nation. That factor will continue to positively impact San Antonio’s education and professional landscape, Taylor said.

“It’s programs like these that are going to shape the future of our community, of our families and our city,” she said.

University of the Incarnate Word optometry students listen to President of Incarnate Word College Dr. Lou Agnese Jr. speak. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
University of the Incarnate Word optometry students listen to President of Incarnate Word College Dr. Lou Agnese Jr. speak. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

“With more medical professionals coming from UIW in the future, I have no doubt that number will increase,” Taylor said.

The School of Osteopathic Medicine will start classes in the fall of 2017, and reach a full student capacity of 600 in fall of 2021. The City expects the new medical school, alone, to inject another $100 million into the local economy yearly, Taylor said.

“But what’s most important is the foundation of any economy and that’s the health of our residents,” she added. “By having more medical professionals certainly benefits all of us no matter what field we’re working in.”

The new UIW program means a new opportunity for qualified local low-income, minority students to seek out a quality education, said Richard Perez, CEO/president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

“They’ll get trained up, turn right around and go back to those communities and provide health care,” he said. “This will provide opportunities to grow, opportunities to learn and be models.”

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Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks about how she got her glasses from UIW’s Bowden Eye Care Center.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.