Medical program at UC Merced right on track

Students arriving, will visit community next week.

July 13, 2011 

Even though the opening for UC Riverside's Medical School was pushed back a year, UC Merced's medical program is on schedule.

The UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (PRIME) will start this fall, and its first cohort of students will be on campus and throughout the community next week.

The plan was to select six students. They will be introduced Monday through Wednesday to the community and the media in Merced and Fresno, said Fred Meyers, executive associate dean of UC Davis School of Medicine and executive director of Medical Education and Academic Planning for UC Merced.

An announcement of the program, the students and their backgrounds will be made early next week, officials said.

The program was made possible by a partnership between UC Davis and the Fresno facility of the University of California at San Francisco.

Patti Waid, spokeswoman for UC Merced, said the medical program at the university wasn't affected by the state budget crisis and will proceed because it's not being funded by the state. The program will be funded with a $5 million grant UC Merced received from the United Health Foundation in 2006.

UC Riverside's Medical School now won't open until August 2013, said Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the school. It was previously slated to open in August 2012. "We are pushing back the plan for August 2013 because the state did not include start-up funding for the medical school, which prevented us from receiving preliminary accreditation," she said. "This is a region of California that is experiencing a very serious physician shortage, similar to the shortage the Central Valley is facing. And that means that it will be one additional year before we will be able to begin expanding the physician work force with doctors trained at the UC Riverside Medical School."

The UC Board of Regents had requested $15 million, Barton said.

Although the medical program at UC Merced doesn't need state funding now, Waid acknowledged that as the program grows, it will eventually need support from the state and possibly even from the federal government, in addition to private funds.

This year's students will attend a week-long orientation beginning Monday. As part of their orientation, they will visit community clinics, meet doctors, other medical students and civic leaders from Modesto to Fresno.

The students are mainly from the San Joaquin Valley, Waid said.

They'll be based at UC Davis for the first two years of the program. Their second two years will be spent working in community clinics throughout the Valley.

The program's initiation is another step forward in UC Merced's multiphase process to develop a medical education program in the Valley, leading to the development of UC Merced School of Medicine. "In the meantime, this is one way UC Merced can help address the physician shortage in the Valley," Waid said.

Planning for UC Merced's medical school began before the school opened in 2005. The medical education program was previously slated to start in 2013. "It's really a testament for UC Merced to progress on all academic and research fronts," said Waid. "Six years ago, (the campus opened) and we have already begun a medical education program in its seventh year."

UC Riverside will continue its two-year medical education program in partnership with UCLA. The medical school will reapply for accreditation next year.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at yamaro@mercedsun-star.com or (209) 385-2482.

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