Nearly six years ago, Dr. Richard Lange first came to El Paso. After years as a doctor practicing cardiology, he still hadn’t made it out to the borderland.
But when he finally did get here, he realized what so many of us hold close to our hearts: This is a special place. He also learned that the number of health care professionals on the border isn’t keeping up with the population’s needs.
Lange is the president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and dean of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. He oversees the medical school’s curriculum, lends a hand in recruitment and makes sure the institution is in constant contact with the community it serves.
“I feel very fortunate in the fact that we’re able to educate with an outstanding curriculum, probably the most innovative curriculum in the United States,” Lange said. “We’re able to do it with a large number of students who come from this area. We’re doing a very good job on that.”
On Friday, the medical school celebrated its 10th anniversary with the “Red Tie Affair for a White Coat Occasion” gala that raised money for student scholarships. In the past nine months, TTUHSC El Paso has raised $701,000 in scholarship funds, as well as more pledged at Friday’s event.
Lange received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas and attended UT Southwestern Medical School. He specialized in cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Before coming to El Paso, Lange was vice chair of medicine and director of educational programs at the UT Health Sciences Center at San Antonio.
Lange spent an hour talking to El Paso Inc. in his office on the Texas Tech El Paso campus last week. Cynthia Perry, assistant academic dean and assistant professor for medical education, and Christian Castro, a third year medical student from El Paso, were also present for the interview.
“Part of our mission is to train students who are going to be confident in providing care to the border population,” Perry said. “Because of our location, we felt like we had a responsibility, and we have the patient population in order to do that.”
Read more to find out what Lange said about the medical school’s unique curriculum, El Paso’s medical needs and what’s coming in the next 10 years (hint: teeth) at Texas Tech El Paso.
Q: It’s been 10 years since the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine opened. What’s the school’s biggest accomplishment since then?
I’d say the most significant accomplishment has been having students study here, many from the area, and getting them ready to practice here as well. When the school started in 2009, there were only 40 students. We’ve now graduated 520.
At the time, there was a 75% shortage of physicians in El Paso, just compared to the national average. Right now it’s currently at a 50% shortage.
I looked at the numbers of practicing active physicians in El Paso. Those that either graduated or did their medical residencies here at Texas Tech are at 350 out of 1,200 active. To me that’s been the exciting part.
Q: What are the ways in which you think TTUHSC El Paso is succeeding in its missions?
We have several missions, one of which is to educate. We also provide clinical care in the area. Last year, we saw about 110,000 different patients, which means about 1 in 7 patients in El Paso come to see us at the medical center.
I’m very proud of the community engagement with our students and with our faculty and what we do in the community. The successes are multiple, and it’s due to everyone who works here.
Q: Does the research done at TTUHSC El Paso have a particular focus?
We’re focused on four primary areas that we call centers of emphasis. They are diabetes and metabolism, infectious disease, neuroscience and cancer. Those are all diseases that affect this population, and sometimes in ways that are different from other areas of the country.
Specifically, the cancer research we’re doing, funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, has allowed us to engage about 250 different community partners for outreach with regards to screenings of breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer – all cancers that are preventable if they’re caught very early on. We’ve screened over 20,000 individuals.
Q: How many medical school graduates are staying in El Paso for their residencies?
Last year, of about 100 students who graduated, 18 stayed here to do their residency – about one in five. There are still some residencies we don’t even have here yet, like anesthesia or dermatology or ophthalmology.
People like me, I did my medical school training here in Texas and then did my residency training in Baltimore. But then I came back to Texas. There will be many students that will go off to do residency. We want to make sure that we stay in contact with them, and make this such a great environment that they want to come back.
Q: What’s the medical school’s relationship to local public school districts, UTEP and other learning institutions?
The educators in El Paso, K-12, junior college, college and medical school, are all fully aligned with our desire to take children and expose them to the possibilities early on, and then nurture them through the process. We have what’s called Area Health Education Curriculum where we interact with about 8,000 students in K-12, just to introduce them to medical school, nursing school, graduate school and soon dental school. We start very early on.
We have agreements for undergraduates either from UTEP or in high school that come spend time with us in summer camps and do research, as well to get them involved. We also have a club at UTEP called the Double T, which is meant to introduce students to health care.
Q: What are some big changes in the medical school industry and your profession?
The curriculum here is very different than the way I learned years ago. You memorized things because there were a finite number of facts. You spent the first two years only studying books, and you didn’t see a patient till your third or fourth year.
Now, students begin to see standardized patients very early on. There’s a lot of simulation training, just as a pilot has some before he ever gets inside the cockpit of a plane. Our students also learn simulation training to learn how to do procedures and write codes and take care of patients.
When I was a student, you learned how to diagnose a condition or a disease. Now, what our students learn is that a condition occurs in a person, that person is part of a family, that family is part of a community, that community occurs in a society. Everything on that spectrum affects that patient’s care.
Q: How has this institution changed El Pasoans, whether they receive care here or not?
The annual economic impact we have is about $227 million per year. It didn’t escape my notice when I came here five and a half years ago that they put the medical center in 79905, which has an annual median income of about $17,000 or $18,000. Less than 5% of individuals here have graduated from college.
Now this whole area is being developed — us, UMC, El Paso Children’s and the Cardwell Collaborative — to make it the Medical Center of the Americas. Now we employ over 2,000 individuals. We have over 1,000 learners here.
I’m always amazed when I go to our nursing school graduation. I ask how many of them are first-time college graduates, and about 80% of the hands shoot up. What we do here impacts an entire family.
On Aug. 3 after the mass shooting, the health care provided here in El Paso as a result of the medical school and in collaboration with our hospitals was nothing short of phenomenal. This is simulation training we had been working on.
The year before we trained for an event like this, never hoping it would happen and never expecting it. But when Aug. 3 came, the reason we have so many survivors is because the health care field here was ready to take care of them. That’s changed our community, not only the event but the health care provided.
Q: What are some of your goals for the medical school for the next 10 years?
The most immediate goal is to get the dental school off the ground. That will be the first dental school in 50 years in the state of Texas, and the 67th in the United States. That will be a big milestone.
We want to increase the medical school and nursing school class sizes, as well as the graduate school class size. We’ll increase our training programs so we can have more residents train here with more subspecialty training. We’ll add additional programs and look at our nursing school to see if we’ll add a doctorate in nurse practitioner or MP program. We’ll look at the dental school to see if we should add hygiene.
We also have a huge shortage of behavioral health specialists here, like psychiatrists and psychologists. We’re recruiting those individuals and training them here. We added pediatric and geriatric psychiatry subspecialties so we can meet those needs here.
Q: Do you still host a podcast?
I do. We recently changed its name. It’s now going on its 15th year. Every week for the last 15 years, Elizabeth Tracey and I have been doing a weekly medical podcast, the first in the world, and the most listened to. We started as PodMED when I was at Johns Hopkins. When I moved here, we changed it to PodMED TT. In the last month we changed it to TT HealthWatch, so it’s only sponsored by us.
Elizabeth still records it with me from Baltimore. We record it on Wednesday at about 5:30 in the morning.
It’s about studies that have been released that week; we have access to embargoed information. Those studies are usually made public on the Friday the podcast is released.
It’s fun because overseas, it’s part of the curriculum for many medical students so that they can learn medical English.
Q: What are your takeaways about heart health in El Paso, as a cardiologist?
There are some things that are better and some things that are worse. I’m really proud of the fact that El Pasoans have some of the lowest smoking rates across the nation. That was because of an advertising effort 15 or 20 years ago on smoking prevention.
We still have high instances of diabetes and obesity, which contribute to heart disease. There are higher instances of hypertension in Hispanics than in whites, and a higher percentage of individuals who are not appropriately treated to have their blood pressure controlled.
There are some things about El Paso that are heart-healthy, some things not quite so much yet.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy bicycling. I do a little bit of it here, but I usually go to France a couple of times a year with some friends and cycle. I enjoy reading, and I enjoy spending time with people here in El Paso and with our two grandkids in Dallas.
I love all the terrific eating places; the small family-owned ones are terrific. You can’t not enjoy hiking around here. I live on the Westside and enjoy the ability to just get up on the mountain or enjoy the hills.
Unfortunately, my job takes me out of town frequently, so I do a fair amount of traveling. I try to get back to El Paso as often and as quickly as I can.