Former Texas State Rep. John Zerwas, MD, spoke to students at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) about on the importance of becoming involved in the politics of medicine at the state level during a recent visit to the campus.
Zerwas was welcomed by the Texas Medical Association/American Medical Association chapter of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
As the incoming University of Texas System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Zerwas will oversee all UT health-related institutions, including UTHealth, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer, and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Zerwas, who served as the chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, resigned Sept. 30 in order to assume his new position.
Zerwas graduated from the University of Houston before earning his doctorate of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in 1980. While speaking with the students, he said his life path led him from originally wanting to be a general surgeon, to finding his true love in medicine: anesthesiology. Following a residency, Zerwas returned to open a private clinical practice in Houston, a role he has held for 30 years.
At Baylor, Zerwas met Betty Stephenson, MD, who became a mentor to him and encouraged him to become involved in organized medicine. Stephenson convinced Zerwas to join the TMA/AMA where he said he found himself getting more and more engaged in some of the aspects outside of the day-to-day clinical practice.
“Ultimately the practice of medicine is defined through the policies of the state,” Zerwas said. “The Medical Practice Act is what it’s in essence referred to as. That’s where the state legislature is involved in making those decisions. We get to those decisions by people coming in and telling us what their interests are, why we should vote a certain way, and why we should develop policy a certain way.”
Zerwas continued to immerse himself in the politics of medicine and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2007, representing House District 28. He was named the chamber’s chief budget writer in 2017. Prior to his time as an elected official, Zerwas also served as president of the Memorial Hermann Health Network Providers, chief medical officer of the Memorial Hermann Hospital System, and co-founder of one of the largest anesthesiology groups in the country.
During his time in the House of Representatives, one of Zerwas’ major tasks was helping to continue funding for the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The original bill for CPRIT, funded in 2007, was a $3 billion investment over 10 years to research better ways to prevent cancer. Zerwas was tasked with crafting a bill to continue funding for CPRIT, which will be on the ballot in November.
Zerwas’ appointment at UT System became effective Oct. 1.