With the recent approval from the University of California Board of Regents for the planning of one new medical school and the opening of another, UC is hoping to help alleviate the severe shortage of physicians in California’s rural and minority regions.
In May, the UC regents granted final approval for the planning of a new medical school on the UC Merced campus, while UC Riverside received approval for its opening earlier this month. The the new medical schools are an attempt to close the physician gap in California’s under-served regions of the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire.
Though statewide, California has seen a 25 percent increase in the ratio of physicians to the population over the last 30 years, there are not enough physicians per capita in the state’s low-income and non-metropolitan areas, according to a study out of UC Berkeley’s Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare.
“The inland part of the state has the fastest growing population,” said Phyllis Guze, executive director for medical school planning at UC Riverside. “Unfortunately, the number of training sites for physicians [in these areas] are sparse, mainly because residency programs are usually affiliated with medical schools, and it has been shown that physicians tend to practice in the area where they complete their residency training.”
Another part of the problem is that, statewide, California has a low medical school enrollment rate in comparison to its large population. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, California sends more students to out-of-state medical schools than any other state.
“California lags other states by a significant margin when it comes to medical school enrollment per 100,000 population,” said Kathy Barton, director of health affairs communication at UC Riverside. “In California, that ratio is 15.6 per 100,000 and in New York, for instance, the ratio is 42.3 per 100,000. We anticipate that the new medical schools will contribute to helping improve this imbalance.”
The cost of building two new medical schools from the ground up is not feasible during the current California budget crunch, said Maria Pallavicini, dean of natural sciences at UC Merced. In light of this, both institutions will forgo building their own teaching hospitals. Instead, students will receive the bulk of their clinical training at various hospitals in the region.
“In the UC system, most of the curriculum is based on a campus teaching hospital,” Pallavicini said in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “We are in different times than when the existing medical schools started over 40 years ago. We are looking to leverage the clinical opportunities we have in the valley.”
In an attempt to meet the needs of their respective regions, both schools plan to focus their research on the health issues most prevalent in their areas. For UC Merced, this will mean a focus on chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes while UC Riverside will emphasize cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, emerging infectious diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and public health and health care access, Barton said.
UC Merced plans to open by fall 2013 with a starting class of 32 medical students, a number that should grow to 384. UC Riverside intends to open its doors in fall 2012 with a class of 50 students and eventually increase to 400, not including graduate students and residents.
ERICA LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.