The San Joaquin Valley needs to train more doctors, but it has to look elsewhere than UC Merced for a medical school, which could be years from opening, Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula said Wednesday at a meeting in Fresno to discuss health-care needs.
Fresno could be the location for a private medical school, he said.
Opening new University of California medical schools is a slow process. The UC regents gave conceptual approval for a new medical school in Merced eight years ago, but the project has not materialized. And UC Riverside, which got approval for a medical school 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.
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“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.
Arambula, D-Kingsburg, said UC Merced’s focus now is on adding students.
“The 2020 goal is to have 10,000 students,” he said. 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.”
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 outside the UC and state university systems, he said.
“Private industry has shown that they can open a medical school within 18 months. That’s something we could work with private universities to provide medical degrees in our communities to our residents,” he said.
Arambula was reminded that this is not the first time health leaders have discussed opening a medical school in Fresno.
As long as 40 years ago, members of the community pitched the idea, said Dr. John Blossom, professor emeritus of family and community medicine at UCSF-Fresno. The need remains for a medical school here, he said.
We have to have opportunities for local kids to go to med school here and stay here and do their professional post-graduate 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, Blossom said.
“We have to have opportunities for local kids to go to med school here and stay here and do their professional post-graduate school training and stay in service to the population they love and come from,” he said.
John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, said a medical school in the Valley is a great idea, but the roles of other health providers, such as nurse practitioners and pharmacists, should not be overlooked. The California Health Sciences University in Clovis offers a four-year pharmacy program that trains pharmacy students to provide primary care in conjunction with other health-care providers.
Capitman said the health of Valley residents is affected by factors such as air pollution and poverty.
“I hope this medical school can be a leader in thinking about the social and environmental determinants of health,” he said.
Arambula told the gathering of health-care leaders that he is open to ideas for solving the Valley’s health care provider shortage in the short term and long term. The Fresno meeting was the second of a three-part roundtable discussion on health-care needs in California. The third discussion will be held in Los Angeles on Oct. 29.