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How a former Dallas doctor became one of rural Texas’ best advocates

Dr. Tedd Mitchell, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, has spent years trying to get rural Texans on the radar of state legislators in Austin.

Mitchell is neither an alumnus of the university system he leads nor a native of West Texas. But his advocacy efforts reflect his commitment to a swath of the state population that is often overlooked.

Mitchell persuaded the Legislature to establish the state’s first dental school in over a century and its first veterinary school in 50 years and root them at Texas Tech. Both programs finished their first academic year in the spring of 2022, driven by a mission to boost health care and agriculture across small towns in Texas.

For this remarkable achievement, Mitchell is a finalist for The Dallas Morning News 2022 Texan of the Year.

Mitchell was raised in Longview and followed in his father’s footsteps and decided to become a doctor. He attended medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Mitchell later worked as a physician in Dallas for 20 years and as CEO of Cooper Clinic, a sports and preventive medicine center.

Mitchell went on to serve as president of TTU System’s Health Sciences Center, a position he held for 10 years before he was named chancellor in 2018.

Mitchell understands that rural Texas nourishes industries that drive our state economy: energy and agriculture. He recognized that health care training in underserved areas was a pressing need.

“We provide food, fiber and fuel for everybody,” Mitchell said. “So it’s incumbent upon us to take care of the people who take care of us.”

Mitchell told us that other universities in the state lobbied against his efforts, “fighting tooth and nail” to keep students at existing dental medicine and veterinary programs.

He also had to raise awareness among lawmakers about how these programs would benefit the entire state.

In the end, the volume of applicants for both programs revealed the need.

In El Paso, the inaugural class of Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine received 965 applications for 40 slots. The Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo received 721 applications for about 60 slots.

Mitchell said TTU is intentional about admitting students who grew up in small towns and rural areas to the veterinary program.

“Because they’re not predisposed to move to Dallas or Houston or Austin or San Antonio to do small animals,” Mitchell said. “No, they’re predisposed to work on farms and to work on ranches, which is what the state needs.”

Mitchell’s efforts to place West Texas center stage and to bring resources to overlooked communities make him a worthy finalist for Texan of the Year.

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