Medical student loan helps two new doctors give back to the community

December 13, 2017

Jennifer Lopez and Iris Tomas didn’t know each other growing up in the El Paso region, but they found a common path to achieve their lifelong dreams thanks to an innovative program sponsored by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

Lopez grew up in El Paso and graduated from Eastwood High, while Tomas grew up in neighboring Chaparral, N.M. Both aspired to become doctors, and both dreamed that one day they might even practice medicine back home on the border.

The Health Foundation’s Paso del Norte Medical Student Loan program made their dreams come true. Established in partnership with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM), medical students could receive a $20,000 loan per year for four-years to attend TTUHSC PLFSOM. The full loan balance would be forgiven if they return to El Paso to establish a medical practice once their residency is completed.

Click here to view feature story and video provided by Daniel Marin, KTSM News Channel 9 - January 4, 2018.

Lopez, now Dr. Jennifer Perez following her marriage to Panfilo Perez, and Dr. Tomas are the first two doctors to complete residency and return to El Paso to set up their practices. “I’m so proud that the Health Foundation dedicated resources to support this program. It’s been a great way for us to support the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and address the shortage of physicians in our region,” said Health Foundation CEO, Tracy J. Yellen. “Dr. Perez and Dr. Tomas’s return to El Paso is evidence that the approach is working. We are investing in local students and cultivating a pipeline of future physicians for our community.” For doctors Perez and Tomas, coming home to establish their medical practices was also about returning home to be closer to family and providing medical services in a traditionally under-served Hispanic region.

“I wanted my daughter to grow up around family, and I wanted to work with the Hispanic population of El Paso,” said Perez. “The loan forgiveness was a big plus. It helped me decide to come back here to start my practice without worrying about paying off a big loan.”

To date, 15 students from the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine have taken out loans through the Paso del Norte Medical Student Loan program. Of those students, 11 are either in residency or fellowship programs and will soon have the option of returning to the border and having their loans forgiven. If they choose not to return to El Paso, they pay off the loan with interest.

“I think that a program like this helps bring those doctors who either grew up here or fell in love with the region while attending medical school here to come back and practice here,” Perez said. “It helps draw quality doctors to the area.”

Dr. Perez set up her practice with Prestige Women’s Healthcare on North Mesa. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and completed her residency in San Antonio. Dr. Tomas is with UMC Family Practice on North Desert Boulevard. She earned her undergraduate degree and completed her residency at Baylor University.

“Dr. Perez and Dr. Tomas are the truest examples of our mission of service,” said Dr. Richard Lange, president of TTUHSC El Paso and dean of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. “TTUHSC El Paso was created to bring quality, culturally competent care to a population that is vastly underserved. And now, with our alumni leading the way, we are fulfilling that promise. We could not be more proud.”

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