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School of Medicine celebrates 40 years

Fabian Chavez honored for his vital role in establishing school

SANTA FE — More than 400 people gathered at the Eldorado Hotel Friday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UNM School of Medicine and honor former state Sen. Fabian Chavez, who was instrumental in establishing the school.

“The med school is a phenomenon, it’s much more than celebrating being in business or operation for 40 years,” UNM President Bill Gordon said while taking a break from mingling with crowds. “It’s one of the real success stories in New Mexico.”

Gordon said the school is so successful because it has broken the mold on how to educate physicians. The School of Medicine is also known for its innovative research. In 1999 alone, the school received $70 million in grant awards.

“We have now one of the most competitive research areas in the country,” said Paul Roth, dean of the School of Medicine.

Though the group of students, alumni, faculty, staff and politicians gathered to honor the 40-year-old school that was originally a two-year science school, Chavez was the focus of the celebration.

“The main issue is honoring a very fine gentleman,” Roth said.

Chavez and former UNM President Tom Popejoy worked together in 1960 with a goal of providing New Mexicans with better health care and the opportunity to earn a medical education. The team was successful in 1961, when the state appropriated $25,000 for the initiation of a two-year science school.

As a result of Chavez’s help, the UNM School of Medicine has created the Sen. Fabian Chavez Endowed Chair for Population Research.

The recipient of the endowment will be a visiting faculty member who will do research to study the effects of certain diseases prone to New Mexicans, such as the Hantavirus.

While speaking to the group after dinner had been served, Chavez addressed how the successful school was started with such little money.

“Now, how do you start a medical school with $25,000? Real easy,” Chavez said.

He explained that, after the two-year science school was established, the state allowed the school to expand into a four-year medical program in 1966 with the help of funding provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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Roth said that, during the last 40 years, the school has been home to 3,000 medical residents and 2,200 graduates. He added that it is now home to aspiring physicians such as Sujani Ganga, a third-year medical student who attended the event on Friday.

Ganga, 23, is a student representative for UNM to the Association of American Medical Colleges. She said she was compelled to study medicine at UNM for several reasons.

“I wanted to come home, and it was also an opportunity to work with Spanish-speaking patients,” Ganga said, who is interested in working in international medicine after graduation. She said the school is successful because it addresses the future needs of healthcare in New Mexico.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said it was unimaginable to think where the state would be without UNM’s medical school.

“From medical schools come all kinds of capabilities to help all kinds of people,” Domenici said.

Gordon added that the school has provided opportunities to New Mexicans who are in need of health care and who also have the desire to provide health care.

“This is something all citizens of New Mexico should be proud of,” he said.

Other guests who celebrated UNM’s School of Medicine anniversary Friday included former Gov. Bruce King and New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

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