"Now it's for real. Now the work begins," said Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa, the school's founding dean.
Texas Tech University officials received word Tuesday from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the national accrediting agency, that the El Paso campus was approved as a four-year medical school and can begin recruiting students for the fall of 2009.
"It's a huge milestone for us," de la Rosa said.
The school will now launch its campaign to bring in the historic first class of 40 four-year medical students, de la Rosa said.
Texas Tech officials and local leaders have been working for years to make the campus in El Paso the first full-fledged medical school on the border.
"We confidently expect El Paso's medical school to be a national leader in education, biomedical research, and clinical care," Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance said.
The school opened in 1973 as a two-year campus for third- and fourth-year medical students.
In 2003, lawmakers approved money to expand the two-year campus, but they provided money for only the buildings.
Statewide attention turned to Texas Tech's accreditation pro cess in 2005, as school officials and local legislators started asking state lawmakers for money to hire staff and faculty.
The money, $48 million, finally came in 2007, after more than two years of pleas from local lawmakers, business leaders and Texas Tech officials.
With the money for faculty and staff, school officials completed the school's curriculum and a rigorous site review by the accrediting body.
"All of Texas can celebrate that Texas Tech has been good stewards of their money," said El Paso businessman Rick Francis, a member of the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents.
Gov. Rick Perry, long a supporter of the school, said he was "thrilled" by the news.
"The Texas Tech medical school will be a crown jewel for the entire El Paso region," he said.
"This is a huge accomplishment and it's an indication of the hard work and dedication of the people at Texas Tech," said Paul Foster, who donated $50 million to the school. "There have been hundreds or even thousands of hours put in to get to this point. It's a huge day for Texas Tech and a huge day for El Paso. É I think it's just great news."
El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar helped secure $10 million in the Thomason Hospital budget to assist with faculty recruiting at the medical school. The school and the new children's hospital, she said, would turn El Paso into a health-care powerhouse, bringing more jobs, more opportunities for higher education and better access to medical treatment.
"It is exactly what this community has been working for and dreaming of for so long," Escobar said. "I feel like we need a parade or something."
Brandi Grissom may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 512-479-6606.
Times reporter Darren Meritz contributed to this story.
State Rep. Joe Pickett: "We're still where we wanted to be when we all got together in 1999 and put (the plan for the medical school) together."
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh: "We promised a great medical school. Getting accredited means we're on the road to being great."
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center President Dr. John Baldwin: "This is a watershed event, a great milestone in the history of El Paso and the Texas Tech System."
State Rep. Chente Quintanilla: "It's great news. É I'm very happy because it is something that all El Pasoans were behind, and I think they finally realized their dream."
State Rep. Paul Moreno: "Its wonderful and it's a great day for El Paso and for the state of Texas."
Mayor John Cook: "Absolutely fantastic news. The stars are in alignment, and it's our turn to shine."