The San Joaquin Valley needs to train more doctors but has to look elsewhere than UC Merced for a medical school, which could be years from opening, according to state Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, who believes Fresno could be a good location.
Opening new University of California medical schools is a slow process. The UC regents gave conceptual approval for a school in Merced eight years ago, but the project has not materialized. And UC Riverside, which won such approval in 2006, did not seat its first class of students until 2013.
Thomas W. Peterson, UC Merced provost and executive vice chancellor, acknowledged the slow timeline for a medical school.
“While I would say there probably is a medical school in UC Merced’s future, I think it’s in the rather distant future,” he said.
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Arambula, D-Kingsburg, said UC Merced’s focus now is on adding students.
“The 2020 goal is to have 10,000 students,” he said Wednesday to a group discussing health care needs. To obtain that goal will be difficult and will not leave much room for planning and developing a medical school, he said.
I think we need immediate solutions to start to face the primary-care shortage that we have.
Assemby Member Joaquin Arambula
The Valley can’t wait for solutions to its shortage of medical providers, he said. The area is one of the most medically underserved in the state, having about 50 percent fewer doctors for 100,000 patients compared with the state average.
“I think we need immediate solutions to start to face the primary-care shortage that we have,” Arambula said. “I think we have to look at all options on the table prior to 2020 to try and figure out if there is something we can have in our backyard.”
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, agrees the Valley has a need for a medical school and said he’ll continue to fight for one at UC Merced.
“That (idea) wasn’t just about having a traditional brick-and-mortar medical school,” Gray told the Merced Sun-Star. “It was also about the school helping local clinics and partnering with hospitals.”
Gray said he supports any effort to get a medical school in the Valley as soon as possible.
Historically, California has relied on the UC system for medical education, but Arambula said it has allowed other advanced degrees to be offered at state universities such as Fresno State in geographic areas where there is no competition.
“I’d like to look into whether that’s a possibility for us to look at with our state schools,” he said.
The Valley also could look to private industry, which, Arambula said, “has shown that they can open a medical school within 18 months.”
Peterson said the campus is working in many ways to support local resources for health care.
“Building a medical school requires tremendous infrastructure and resources, and we are working toward that goal, but in the meantime we are still making a significant impact on health in the Valley,” he said in an emailed response to the Sun-Star.
“UC Merced is developing strong programs in public health. We are engaged in research that addresses some of the Valley’s chronic health issues. We are partners with UCSF Fresno, UC Davis and UCSF in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education, which trains future physicians to be outstanding patient care providers and health care leaders in the Valley.”
SJV-PRIME, he said, “is a cost-effective and immediate model for training future physicians, because it uses existing resources and infrastructure rather than waiting for funding to start a medical school. Supporting this program and its students is essential to building the infrastructure necessary for future medical education at UC Merced.”
We have to have opportunities for local kids to go to med school here and stay here and do their professional postgraduate school training and stay in service to the population they love and come from.
Dr. John Blossom, professor emeritus of family and community medicine at UCSF-Fresno
Arambula, a former emergency department doctor, came back to practice in the Valley after going to medical school, but he is an exception, said Dr. John Blossom, professor emeritus of family and community medicine at UCSF-Fresno.
“We have to have opportunities for local kids to go to med school here and stay here and do their professional postgraduate school training and stay in service to the population they love and come from,” he said.
The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this report.