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Dr. John Ronnau, former dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at The University of Texas-Pan American, will serve as senior associate dean for Interprofessional Education at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine (SOM).

In his new role, Ronnau will lead the initiative to advance the competencies of medical students, faculty and resident physicians associated with best practices in Interprofessional Education (IPE).

“Dr. Ronnau brings a wealth of experience coupled with genuine caring for our students and the communities they will serve as health professionals,” said Dr. Francisco Fernandez, inaugural dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine. “His credentials are extensive and we are pleased he will be part of the leadership for this exciting new School of Medicine.”

As dean at UTPA, Ronnau oversaw 10 academic units and two centers, 4,300 majors, 100 full-time faculty and 40 staff in disciplines that included nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, dietetics and social work. During his leadership, Ronnau spearheaded the effort to promote interprofessional education and practice in the college, and initiated several community engagement activities including development of a strong relationship with the County Health Department and an annual conference and community health fair.

Prior to his UTPA experience, Ronnau held numerous academic appointments as a faculty member and administrator, including serving as The University of Texas at Brownsville’s dean of Graduate Studies and vice president for Administration and Partnership Affairs. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in social work from the University of Kansas.

IPE education and practice prepare health professions students to provide patient care in a collaborative team environment. IPE activities in the SOM curriculum will include community-based practice experiences, simulations, small group activities, research projects, seminars and workshops with a special emphasis on learning in colonias via the Ambulatory Interprofessional Medical Experience (AIME) program.

Through AIME, medical students along with other disciplines will learn about population health, health disparities, cultural diversity and culturally competent practice, Ronnau said, and other IPE models of health care practice in the region are successfully underway or will be initiated by the SOM.

“Through interprofessional education, the UTRGV School of Medicine will graduate outstanding physicians who are collaborative leaders, prepared to contribute to effective interprofessional teams and invested in providing leadership on matters of community health,” Ronnau said. “It is the goal of the School of Medicine to not only meet accreditation standards for IPE, but also to be recognized as a national leader in providing health education and health care via interprofessional teams of health care providers.”

The School of Medicine is scheduled to open in fall 2016 and plans to enroll 50 students in its inaugural class. For more about the UTRGV SOM, see: http://www.utrgv.edu/en-us/utrgv-medical-school/deans-welcome.

Rio Grande Valley pharmacies are trying to hire more graduates from the region. The problem is to keep those young professionals from leaving the area.

WESLACO – Rio Grande Valley pharmacies are trying to hire more graduates from the region. The problem is to keep those young professionals from leaving the area.

Pharmacy students typically move across the country for school. Sometimes they move back, but many times they don’t.

Now a local university is working to keep Valley graduates here at home. Nario Cantu works at his family’s pharmacy. “October 1, 1970, we opened our doors,” Cantu said. He values every patient who walks through the door. “We’ve been here four decades, so a lot of these folks are like family,” he said.

Cantu graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1984. He knew he’d move back to the valley when he finished school.

“I had a business to come back to so that’s what helped attract me. I had family here. I was from here. I didn’t want to live anywhere else,” Cantu said.

Cantu says other pharmacy students from the Valley may not have those options. Many of those students travel to schools in Houston or San Antonio and decide not to come back.

“It’s hard to keep and attract the best and the greatest when you have competition like the big cities that can offer different things that young and bright and talented kids and professionals want and need,” said Dr. Lydia Aguilera, director of the Cooperative Pharmacy Program at the University of Texas-Pan American.

“It’s so important to keep them because they fill that need. They understand the culture. They understand the language,” Aguilera said.

“They start here at the university. They do their basics here and then they matriculate to Austin,” she said.

The students go through their first two years of pharmacy school at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Then, they come back here,” she said.

They complete their final two years of school here. The goal is to keep the Valley’s best here at home. Four out of five students who go through the program stay in the region.

“Our students, they’re from the Valley. They represent a cross-section of the community. So, what’s better than members of the community serving the community? We don’t need to bring outsiders to serve our own families,” Aguilera said.

Isai Granados is a pharmacy student at UTPA.

“I was raised in Sharyland. I went to high school in Sharyland,” Granados said.

Granados graduates from the program next month. He’s working to line up a job here in the Valley.

“This is where everything has happened in my life. This is where I want to keep living and I want to keep helping through my pharmacy services,” he said.

Cantu says he’d love to have someone like Granados at his pharmacy.

“We would look for local talent. We would look for somebody who’s from here, familiar with the area and has family from here because that would be someone who was planted in the area,” Cantu said.

Cantu hopes more people from the Valley will stay to serve their community.


The University of Texas-Pan American’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program has been listed among the best inThe U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” rankings for its 2016 edition.

Specifically, UTPA’s program was ranked No. 15 out of 88 schools in the country. The rankings are based on peer assessment surveys sent to deans, other administrators and/or faculty at accredited degree programs or schools in each of the subjects U.S. News evaluated, according to the magazine.

The periodical had the research firm Ipsos Public Affairs conduct the peer surveys.  The firm sent surveys out in the fall of 2014 to programs and schools accredited by the Commission of Standards and Accreditation: Council on Rehabilitation Education and received responses from 38 percent of the institutions from which it sought feedback.

Respondents rated the academic quality of the programs on a 5-point scale, with 5 representing the top score of “outstanding.”

UTPA’s program received a 3.4 out of 5 from its peer institutions and tied with the University or Northern Colorado and the University of North Texas.

The last time UTPA’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program was included in the U.S. News’ best schools report was in 2011, when it was ranked No. 17.

“We are very proud of our Rehabilitation Counseling faculty, staff and students,” said UTPA’s College of Health Sciences and Human Services Dean Dr. John Ronnau. “To be in the top 20 program nationally is a huge achievement; to move up in the rankings from 17 to 15 is an achievement to be especially proud of.”

Ronnau said the ranking improvement, in large part, is due to the achievements and progress made by faculty and students in the graduate program.

“They have worked very hard to make this happen and deserve the recognition,” he said.

Dr. Bruce Reed, interim chair of the Department of Rehabilitation, said the ranking bump is a step in the right direction.

“I attribute our success to a number of things, beginning with the employability of our graduates,” Reed said. “As a broad field major, our students become employed in a wide variety of settings all in the helping fields — counseling, case management, addictions, job placement, behavioral/mental health, and as educators.”

He also credits the faculty and staff for promoting a student-focused environment.

“Student word of mouth becomes our best recruitment tool,” he said. “With the now successful implementation of our Ph.D. program, we continue to become more recognized by our professional peers around the nation.”

There are more almost 1,200 students enrolled in the University’s rehabilitation undergraduate and graduate programs, with 138 master’s candidates and 29 in doctoral candidates.

For more information about the Rehabilitation Department, visit the department’s website or call Reed at (956) 665-7036.


An increase of national measles cases has shined a light on those who don’t believe in vaccinating their children. As of last week, there were 102 reported cases of measles in 14 states.

Locally, Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez said the area does a good a job of keeping up with its vaccinations, adding that 87 percent of children in the county are vaccinated.

The Monitor recently asked Olivarez about the recent outbreaks of measles and what it means to the county.

Q: What is herd immunity and how does it apply to the recent American outbreak of measles?

A: When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals — get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as “community immunity. (www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/)

Q: Should the United States tighten their legal exemptions for vaccinations?

A: High exemption rates leads to low immunization rates which leaves the state exceptionally vulnerable to outbreaks, not just of measles but potentially other diseases like mumps, rubella and whooping cough. For example, in 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country. The United States was able to determine this because it has a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage in children, and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.

Q: Does our proximity to the Mexican border present any special health challenges for our area?

A: We must take into account our recent immigration data obtained from CBP that our public health risks are no longer localized but are international due to rapid transit and globalization. We must always be vigilant for any type of illness or outbreak that may be imported into our country, but equally important we must be responsible to limit the export of any and such illnesses, as well. Some of the health challenges we face along the US-Mexico border include high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer, vector borne diseases, and other bacterial infections (such as salmonellosis and listeriosis). However, the importance of following through with vaccinations, annual physicals, proper diet and exercise would contribute to the reduction of these health risks.

Q: While we do have a high vaccination rate in Hidalgo County, are there any particular diseases prevalent or unique to our area in which citizens could be aware?

A: Our high vaccination rates are due to the commitment from our parents, local physicians, school nurses, daycare and public health partners. However, we cannot always predict what Mother Nature will bring in the form of vaccine preventable diseases; therefore, it is important that we increase our current vaccination numbers to assure limited infections. There is always a risk of some type of infectious disease affecting our community, however we continue to maintain our public health surveillance efforts in a proactive approach.

Q: What should Hidalgo County residents do to help protect themselves and others from preventable diseases?

A: Consult with your medical provider when dealing with any infectious diseases or illnesses which may be of concern to you. Educate yourself and your family on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and methods in which you can prevent the spread of illness (i.e. The four Cs — Cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze, clean your hands with soap and water, contain yourself to home when you have a fever, and consult your physician).

Congratulations to Noel A. Ysasi, who has been selected as this year’s recipient of the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association “Doctoral Student of the Year” award.
Ysasi is currently pursuing his PhD in Rehabilitation Counseling, here at The University of Texas-Pan American.  His research interests mainly include those concerning the psychosocial world of veterans; however, his other research passions include the medical aspects of disability/SCI, forensic rehabilitation, and multicultural factors concerning persons with disabilities.  The faculty speaks very highly of Ysasi’s academic and research skills and say that he dives into all issues related to disability with a deep intrinsic passion.
Ysasi is also currently serving as the Chair of the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (ARCA)- Council on Public Policy, Legislation, and Human Rights.
Ysasi will be presented with the award at the American Counseling Association’s annual conference in March 11-15 in Orlando, Florida.
Read more about the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association here.

“It was a completely life-changing experience, there was a lot of turmoil going on in my life and I had a lot of uncertainty,” Garcia recalled when diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2010. “Luckily enough, I was very blessed with great providers. They really made a difference in my life and I realized then that’s where I needed to be.”

The Brownsville native was treated at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where he underwent surgery Jan. 5, 2011. A week after his recovery, Garcia, who received his bachelor’s in biology from the University of Texas at Brownsville in 2009, decided it was time to start a new path. After returning to UTB to complete a prerequisite course, Garcia was able to enroll in UTPA’s Physician Assistant (PA) program fall 2012.

“I felt like God was trying to redirect me to do something else, to be of more help to others, and at that moment I decided to go back to school,” he said.

Last year Garcia, who graduated from UTPA in December 2014, participated in a clinical rotation the same place that saw his speedy recovery. At MD Anderson, Garcia gained hands-on experience as a PA and was able to walk away with a job offer.

Garcia said UTPA’s PA program prepared him for the elective rotation at MD Anderson. In 2012, the U.S. News and World Report ranked UTPA’s physician assistant program 38th out of 164 accredited programs.

“Initially it was a bit intimidating being around the best in the world and being at such a huge center,” Garcia said. “After 30 minutes I knew I belonged and that I was well prepared because of Mr. Frank Ambriz (PA program director) and the leadership he has provided for the program. Any PA that comes from UTPA comes out prepared to work anywhere in the country.”

Garcia was named recipient of the 2015 Erin Scott Courageous Spirit Award by MD Anderson, which is an award presented to a colon cancer survivor who demonstrates courage and a positive spirit in spite of their illness. The award will be presented to Garcia March 28 at the annual Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (SCOPE) 5K Fun Run/Walk.

“Going through cancer is definitely not easy and it can definitely affect the mindset of one person,” Garcia said. “This award is probably the most meaningful and most important for me just because it shows the effort that I’ve put trying to overcome a terrible situation and trying to turn it into something good.”

Garcia ended 2014 on a positive note, being one of the select few to be inducted into the Pi Alpha Honor Society, the national honor society for physician assistant students and graduates. “I think that being in the medical field, we are assigned a duty to help others,” Garcia said. “I definitely believe every person has the ability to become whatever they want — they just have to find that passion that fuels their motivation.”

The COHSHS RN to BSN Program was just ranked #48 out of over 700 programs nationally by RNtoBSN.org


Marc Geller, a second-year student at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Physician Assistant Program, was one of the select few students in the U.S. to  travel this fall to Washington, D.C., to learn more on advocacy, leadership and PAs in the health care environment.

Geller, along with nine physician assistant students from across the nation, participated in the Physician Assistant Education Association’s (PAEA) inaugural Student Health Policy Fellowship. The PAEA was established in 1972 and is the only national organization in the country to represent PA educational programs.

The purpose of the fellowship is to foster leadership and advocacy skills and enhance students’ understanding of political processes and health policies. The workshops held throughout the three-day event featured prominent members of the health policy community and served as a learning and networking opportunity for Geller. Afterward, the fellows visited elected officials and congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Geller said meeting with lawmakers and legislative assistants to discuss the importance of funding for the PA profession was the highlight of the trip.

“It was a great experience,” Geller said. “They (PAEA) want people not just to be practitioners taking care of patients but to also be able to be effective advocates for health reforms, changes in health policy and to sort of encourage people to play a leadership role in health care in the United States.”

To further their advocacy skills, participants will work on individual projects focusing on promoting health care, education and advocacy. Geller, along with a fellow PAEA from Texas, is planning to give a student presentation at the upcoming spring conference of the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants, titled “Make Waves, not Noise: Engage Your Local Government.” He said the idea is to share with others some of the knowledge and insight gained from his fellowship experience.

Geller, a former journalist with a bachelor’s in psychology, said a visit to the doctor’s office prompted his interest in pursuing the PA field after realizing he had been treated by a PA, not a doctor. Geller, who received encouragement by his instructor to apply for the competitive fellowship, believes UTPA’s PA program is ideal for individuals interested in health care.

“I’m happy now to be returning to the health field,” Geller said. “The PA program, I’ve it heard it described before as sort of the hidden gem of Pan Am and it really is. The faculty is very receptive and responsive to us and is constantly looking for ways to improve this program.”

After graduation next year, Geller expects to launch his career as a PA in primary care under the National Health Service Corps scholarship where scholars are assigned to work in areas with health-care professional shortages.

To learn more about the PAEA Student Health Policy Fellowship, visit www.paeaonline.org/.

Shawn SaladinMcALLEN— Being born hard of hearing, Shawn Saladin of Edinburg remembers the isolation and lack of understanding that comes with being partially deaf.

Years later, and with several college degrees at hand, those struggles have given him the opportunity to represent students dealing with deafness throughout Texas.

Saladin, associate dean of research and academic affairs at The University of Texas Pan American’s college of health science and human services, was recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the governing board of the Texas School for the Deaf, where he will begin serving next month until January 2017.

TSD works as a state agency to provide education to children who are deaf, hard of hearing or with multiple disabilities ages until 21 years of age.

The school’s bylaws mandate five out of nine board members must be deaf, parents of children who are deaf, or professionals working with the deaf.

“It’s really a huge honor,” he said. “The three things I’m supposed to do are teach, research and serve. And this really ties those three things together.”

For the past 10 years, Saladin has been serving as gubernatorial appointee for several committees such as the Rehabilitation Council of Texas and Governor’s Committee of People with Disabilities, where he continues to be a member.

Saladin has been researching ways to help bring quality education into school programs for the deaf and widen the range of resources available so that they can lead a more independent lifestyle. He is a co-developer of UTPA’s project Valley I-CAN— Valley Independent Confident Activities Network— where students volunteers help individuals who need sign language translations and tutoring.

“I want these people to know that we can figure out ways for them to have more control over their lives so that they can realize their hopes and dreams,” Saladin said.

As a new board member, he said he wants to figure out ways to reach out to people in need, especially in the Rio Grande Valley where as many as 8,000 people are deaf of hard of hearing. Only a handful of them are students, he said.

“I want to show what the school for the Deaf can offer to the Valley,” Saladin said. “Make sure that all children end up with a proper education.”

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