TTU School of Medicine celebrates graduates, special anniversary

Published: May. 20, 2023 at 11:47 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Friday was graduation day at the Texas Tech University School of Medicine, a milestone for the nearly 180 new doctors and for the Dean of the Medical School. Dr. Steven Berk has held that position for 17 years. But this was his last commencement before retiring as dean. This also happened to mark the 10th anniversary of the first class he recognized as graduates of the FMAT program.

FMAT stands for Family Medicine Accelerated Track. It was launched by the Texas Tech School of Medicine as a solution to the problem of not enough physicians in family medicine to care for rural America. Featured by Nightly News 10 years ago, NBC Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, said this, “Some schools, like the School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, are offering accelerated programs and financial incentives.”

But Dr. Berk says “It started in Lubbock, Texas. No question about that.” And he’s quick to add that NBC Nightly News was not the only national news media that covered the story. He explains, “We figured out a way how they could graduate after three years, instead of four, and go into one of our Family Medicine residency programs. We gave them a scholarship in the first year. There was no fourth year.” So, they graduated sooner and owed less money in student loans when they got out. Best of all, the plan worked. Dr. Berk says, “So instead of 8% of our students going into Family Medicine, it was as high as 19%. And that’s why this week, when the Association of American Family Physicians ranked medical schools based on Family Medicine, we were ranked ninth.” That’s number 9 out of 192 medical schools in the country! This, while U.S. News and World Report named Lubbock’s School of Medicine in the top 20 Primary Care medical schools in the country. It’s no wonder the FMAT program at Texas Tech has been adopted by many other medical schools.

Keely Ewing-Bramblett was a third year medical student in that first group profiled by Nightly News 10 years ago. Today, Dr. Keely Hobart honored the 10th anniversary of FMAT graduates this year in a special ceremony this morning.

In essence, the graduation ceremonies today closed a chapter for Dr. Berk. He is set to formally retire September first. But FMAT aside, he can look back on many other accomplishments during his tenure as Dean of the medical school. Impact, the student operated Free Clinic has provided health care to thousands who are uninsured. The Student Medical Association has tackled many fundraisers that have raised millions in scholarships and for charities. The Texas Tech medical campus has grown to include Covenant, adding 30 additional medical students. And there is now a summer research program with 100 students every year, staying in the summer to do research. But Dr. Berk is perhaps most proud of a stack of cards he keeps in his office. Each card includes a picture of a medical student. He says, “I keep a card on each of them so I can follow them.”

In his retirement, Dr. Berk will continue to teach... and write books. He’s written two already, ‘The Anatomy of a Kidnapping’ and ‘In Search of the Animalcule.’ He already has plans for a third book, ‘Anatomy of a Heart Attack’ in reference to the close call he had recently when he suffered one himself.

But who knows what Dr. Berk can accomplish in his final 3 months as Dean of the School of Medicine.

He told me… As the population ages, we are going to face a new kind of physician shortage… in Geriatric Medicine.

Then, he said, “But I think I have some ideas on why that may be and how we might be able to turn that around.”

Three months in that corner office is a long time…

Time enough to see Nightly News come back to Lubbock for another good idea.