Clinical rotations in McAllen, Texas: Worth the trip.

OUM students Jessica Saenz (left) and Elizabeth Mills during their pediatric rotation at South Texas Health System’s Edinburgh Children’s Hospital.

Despite being away from family, OUM students completing rotations at the South Texas Health System’s McAllen Medical Center have made themselves at home in the area, relying on each other for support.

“Being with other OUM students has really improved my overall medical school experience and made ‘the struggle’ easier,” says Elizabeth Mills, who is on her third rotation in McAllen. “You see you’re not alone and we try to help one another be successful. Also, I think it is good to see how we differ from other medical school students. I think we shine, comparatively.”

Preston Harris, who left extended family in Tennessee and is currently doing his OB/GYN rotation, his seventh at McAllen, agrees.

“Having other OUM students down here has been great. We get together socially, going out to restaurants and doing potlucks. We have also made friends from other schools who are also down here in rotations,” says Preston. “We all benefit from sharing our experiences with each other. It is nice to have support from those who are going through the same things as you. Almost everyone down here lives alone, so we try to support one another.”

A total of 19 OUM clinical students are currently rotating in McAllen. An OUM-affiliated hospital and the flagship of South Texas Health System, McAllen Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in the region and accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

“We have developed close relationships and it is a joy and a blessing to see my colleagues in the clinical sites,” says Carol Jessee, who moved to McAllen in June 2020 and will remain until October of this year. “I have absolutely no anxiety when I start a new rotation, if I know one of our students is also rotating, because we help each other out with familiarization of the site, the preceptor, the staff and the entire process in the clinics or hospital. This is what I call the ‘inside baseball secrets’ of success.”

One location

Completing multiple rotations at one location is convenient, and although students left family behind, they have found a community in McAllen. For Carol and Preston, that means an RV community. Both brought RVs to Texas as a way to cut costs.

“Living in the RV allows me to have my own space and focus on school and self-care versus doing daily care for others. This has helped me to be successful with school requirements. The time has gone by very quickly; I will miss living here,” says Carol, who travels home to Alabama to see her husband and occasionally gets together with a son and niece who live elsewhere in Texas. Preston and Carol have lived in the RV park for over a year.

From left: Jessica Saenz, Dr. Kristy Morales, OB Preceptor, and Carol Jessee.

Moving is nothing new for Elizabeth, who has transferred three times since she began her journey at OUM. After making two moves related to work, she came to McAllen for clinicals because she wanted to stay put for a while and complete her core rotations in one place. With a clear goal in mind, everything else fell into place.

“This has been extremely difficult – uprooting my life thrice to try to complete the goal ahead – having to figure out everything all over again in a new city with no friends or family nearby. But we know this journey is not about being comfortable, it is about being stretched and learning; growing however necessary to move forward. It has taken a lot of faith and God’s grace, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Donde tiene dolor?

“Where does it hurt?” Communicating with patients in their language is a tremendous advantage. That’s why when he was asked to share advice with students considering McAllen, Preston thought of the large Spanish-speaking patient population in McAllen.

“Start working on your Spanish, specifically medical Spanish. Many patients we see are Spanish-speaking only,” he says. “The Google Translate app helps immensely. However, being able to name parts of the body, common symptoms, days of the week, numbers, etc. is very useful.”

Actually, OUM students at the rotation site in Chicago also interact with a large Spanish-speaking patient base. Rashella D’Amico, who is currently completing rotations in Chicago and is also the current president for the OUM Student Association (OUMSA), established an OUM account with CANOPY, an online platform for learning medical Spanish. The link is on the OUMSA Moodle page.

“Learning Spanish will significantly improve your effectiveness within the rotations and your quality of life here in McAllen,” adds Elizabeth.

Preston Harris in his McAllen RV park

In addition to the multi-cultural flavor, Carol describes McAllen as safe and easy to navigate – if you have a car. “The clinical sites are centrally located, and the commute is minimal by car.”

Get an early start

OUM has relationships with 30 preceptors in McAllen. Dr. Sarmad Ghazi, Dean for North America, advises students to submit their requests as early as possible.

“I encourage students to set their schedule at the beginning of the academic year. We cannot guarantee any placement for requests coming three weeks prior to the start of the rotation,” says Dr. Ghazi. “We have an online system in place for scheduling and communication with the local placement coordinator in McAllen.” Questions may also be directed to Melody Calvert, Regional Student Affairs Coordinator,