The land that is now the site of The Health Science Center at Tyler has a rich history of commitment and dedication to patient care and community health. From its early beginnings in 1943 as the site of the 1,000-bed Camp Fannin Army hospital during World War II through decades of fighting against pulmonary diseases like tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asbestosis, UT Health Science Center has served the citizens of Texas with distinction.
Becoming a Part of Something Greater
On September 1, 1977, under the leadership of George A. Hurst, M.D., the state hospital known as the East Texas Chest Hospital officially became The University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, joining the world-renowned University of Texas System with an expanded mission that today includes patient care and community health, medical and health education, and biomedical and clinical research.
In September 1980, UT Health opened a six-story hospital tower, and on June 3, 1981, UT physicians performed the region’s first heart catheterization. Construction began in 1985 on a $9 million, 71,000-square-foot Center for Biomedical Research that was completed in 1987.
Great strides have been made in subsequent years, advancing healthcare through biomedical research one discovery at a time in scientific areas including lung injury and repair, infectious lung diseases, and cancer, to name just a few ongoing research projects. Today, the biomedical research conducted at UT Health Science Center is nationally recognized and competitively funded by private foundations, non-profit organizations, the Centers for Disease Control, and the gold standard of research support – the National Institutions of Health.
In the area of graduate medical education, the newly created Family Practice Residency Program accepted its first physician residents in 1985. In 1994, occupational medicine was the next residency program added.
After 27 years, Dr. Hurst retired from UT Health Center in January 1998, and that same month, Dr. Ronald F. Garvey was named to lead the institution for the next four years. He retired in August 2002.
The Dawn of a New Era
Dr. Kirk Calhoun began his tenure as president in September 2002, and is credited with advancing UT Health Center into the 21st century.
In 2005, the four-story outpatient Riter Center for Advanced Medicine was dedicated in honor of the late A.W. “Dub” Riter, Jr., a long-time supporter of UT Health Center. In 2008, the institution’s name was changed to The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.
Under Dr. Calhoun’s leadership, a new three-story, $67-million Academic Center was built in 2009. The new building became home to a cancer treatment and prevention center with some of the most advanced technology available, an ultramodern breast diagnostic center, numerous surgical specialties, the Watson W. Wise Medical Research Library, the Louise and Joseph Z. Ornelas Academic Amphitheater, and additional classrooms.
The education mission of UT Health Northeast took a giant leap forward with the expansion of a new medical residency training program in internal medicine in 2010 and the approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to establish the School of Medical Biological Sciences in early 2012. A first-ever, degree-granting program, a master’s in biotechnology, welcomed its first class of students in August 2012. In February 2013, UT Health Science Center received approval from the Board of Regents for use of the name UT Health Northeast to better reflect its regional service.
In addition, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) conferred accreditation on UT Health Northeast in December 2015. In 2016, a master’s program in public health welcomed its first class of students, and two new medical residencies in rural family medicine and psychiatry were approved.
The Announcement Heard Around the Region
On September 2017, an exciting public announcement was made that would forever change patient care in Northeast Texas. East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System announced they had selected The University of Texas System and UT Health Northeast, along with Ardent Health Services, to purchase their regional system of hospitals, clinics and emergency centers, rehabilitation facilities, trauma care network, home health services, a behavioral health center, along with regional Air 1 and ambulance transport services. The purchase was finalized on March 1, 2018.
Under the banner of UT Health East Texas, the new 10-hospital health system is governed by a 10-member board of directors with Dr. Kirk Calhoun serving as chair. The board provides governance and strategic oversight for UT Health East Texas while Ardent Health Services maintains majority ownership and manages the day-to-day operations of the clinical/patient-care enterprise. Dr. Calhoun will also continue to lead the academic and research mission as president of The University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center.
As UT Health Science Center continues to build on making its dreams a reality, the tradition of excellence and public service that began with a barracks hospital 75 years ago remains a core commitment today. With exceptional patient care, comprehensive education, and innovative research, The University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center and UT Health East Texas combine to serve as the university medical center for Northeast Texas and beyond.
Expanding Community and Rural Health Through Education and Outreach
On September 19, 2019, The University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center celebrated the grand opening of their newest addition to campus, the School of Community and Rural Health. The 89,000-square-foot structure houses classrooms equipped with the latest educational technology for graduate students pursuing a Master of Health Administration or Master of Public Health degree. The School of Community and Rural Health was renamed to “The School of Health Professions” in June of 2022.
In addition to the university’s graduate education, the School of Health Professions provides boots on the ground with a multitude of community health outreach programs. These programs span an array of fields such as convenient asthma care for rural populations, colorectal cancer screenings, affordable dental care, parental education, smoking cessation and more.
The opening of the School of Health Professions, combined with the established research and hospital system, stands to truly impact the health of East Texas, which has been of the utmost importance since President Kirk A. Calhoun’s arrival.
The new school also serves as home to a teaching kitchen, faculty, staff and administrative offices and an event space that showcases a mural painted by Kilgore artist L.C. Kitchen in 1991. The mural illustrates UT Health Science Center at Tyler’s evolution throughout the years, beginning with Camp Fannin and spanning to the creation of the institution as it is today.
East Texas, It’s Time For YOUR Medical School
In a series of events, February 2020 proved to be a monumental month for The University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center.
On February 6, 2020, The University of Texas System Chairman of the Board of Regents Kevin P. Eltife, UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken and UT Health Science Center President Kirk A. Calhoun joined together at Plaza Tower in downtown Tyler to announce a plan to elevate the region’s higher education and healthcare opportunities. With regional business, civic, educational and medical leaders and elected officials present for the morning news conference, UT System announced its intention to establish a medical school in Tyler – the first in East Texas – to increase access to healthcare in the region.
Though Chairman Eltife and Chancellor Milliken announced their intention and support, the proposal to establish a medical school in Tyler would still need approval from UT System’s Board of Regents to begin initial phases of planning.
On February 12, 2020, less than a week following UT System’s announcement of its intention to launch a medical school in East Texas, UT Health Science Center at Tyler received a historic gift commitment as the first response to a call for private and public support needed to fund it. The East Texas Medical Center Foundation announced their $80 million gift to help fund the university’s new educational venture – aimed at significantly transforming health education, care and outcomes in a rapidly growing region of the state.
The foundation’s gift represents the largest single contribution ever made to establish a medical school in Texas and the largest gift made to an institution or organization in East Texas, a region of 1.3 million people.
On February 27, 2020, The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved the proposal to establish a medical school in Tyler. The medical school will provide a pathway for students to receive a comprehensive medical education in East Texas and extend access to patient care, especially for individuals living in rural areas of the region.
UT System and UT Health Science Center at Tyler are now authorized to work with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Legislature and other licensing and accrediting agencies to bring the school to fruition.
In addition to the board approval, the health science center officially aligned with The University of Texas at Tyler in December 2020, with Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun appointed as leader over both institutions. The Health Science Center at UT Tyler now stronger than ever. Together as one university system, these entities have been unified to serve East Texas and beyond through innovative medical research, medical education and excellent patient care.