GALVESTON — Byron Smith isn’t a doctor yet and won’t be for at least a couple more years.

But the second-year UTMB medical student said that when the time comes to start his medical residency and later start a practice, he wants to do it in Texas.

For that reason, Smith joined hundreds of doctors and medical professionals on Tuesday for a “white coat invasion” of the Capitol as part of a lobbying day organized by the Texas Medical Association.

New items on the agenda

Since 2003, the association has organized a program to send doctors to meet with legislators during the beginning of the new legislative session. The program, known as First Tuesdays is meant to push the group’s legislative agenda.

This year’s agenda includes items like opposing unnecessary medical regulations and supporting funding for preventive health programs.

Funding needed

But to Smith and the 92 other medical students who left for Austin before sunrise on Tuesday, one particular issue stood out: restoring funding to graduate medical education to ensure young doctors stay in Texas for their residencies.

According to the association, 48 percent of Texas school graduates left the state for residency training in 2011, at least in part because the hospitals and practices that need young doctors — such as those in rural and underserved areas — do not have the money to pay from them.

‘I don’t want to be part of that statistic’

Smith said when he begins applying for residencies in less than two years, he doesn’t want to move out of state to find work.

“We already have a significant doctor shortage,” Smith said. “I don’t want to be part of that statistic.”

Smith said the students were well received by the legislators he spoke to. Houston’s Rep. Alma Allen and state Sen. Tommy Williams were receptive to his concern. Smith said Williams, the chair of the Senate’s Finance Committee, told him the issue would be addressed.

Other students reported similar interactions.

“We helped bring a lot of light the issue,” second-year medical student Kendra Kaderka said. “I’m hoping that they can get things figured out and resolve them this session.”

Funding cuts

In the last four years, the state has cut medical training programs. The legislature created the loan repayment program for medical students in 2009 but cut it from $23.2 million in 2010 to $5.6 million in 2012. The state’s Primary Care Residency Program was eliminated in 2011.

In total, the medical association sent 289 people to Tuesday’s event. That nearly a third of them were UTMB students should carry some weight with state leaders, said Steve Brotherton, the group’s president-elect.

“If a medical student tells them they are trying to decide among several states in which to practice after they complete training, the legislator takes them seriously — and they should,” Brotherton said.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

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