•UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program trains doctor residents by placing them in clinics and hospitals where they work with patients and learn from UCSF faculty members.
•The program has trained 3,000 doctors in 40 years and a third choose to remain and practice in the San Joaquin Valley.
When the San Joaquin Valley was hurting for doctors four decades ago, a unique medical education campus was created in Fresno to bridge the gap.
Now, one-third of the physicians trained through the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program remain in the Valley after graduation, helping to ease the region’s long battle with a doctor shortage and the need to increase training for existing physicians.
“In my residency class, over half of us stayed here,” said Fresno pediatrician Christian Faulkenberry-Miranda a Fresno native who graduated from the program in 2007. “We have a higher physician shortage than any other area, and without the (UCSF) program here that would be higher. People don’t realize how important that has been for the medical care of people here.”
UCSF Fresno — a regional campus of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine — is celebrating 40 years of training doctors. A gala and fundraiser, “Valley Visions,” was held Saturday night at the Fresno Convention Center in downtown Fresno to commemorate the milestone.
The medical program was created in 1975 in response to a need for more doctors and training in the Valley. A medical school was desired, but it was decided that a medical training program, overseen by the University of California, should be tested first, said Dr. Joan Voris, who retired as associate dean this year.
“At the time, UC Davis was a young campus and wasn’t established enough to take on a distanced program,” Voris said. “UCSF was the next closest program, so it was assigned by the office of the president to be part of UCSF.”
Across the United States, a number of regional campuses have been created to diversify training for students, Voris said, but in California the UCSF program is unique.
In Riverside and Berkeley, regional campuses provide first- and second-year medical students with training, then students finish up their studies at UCLA or UCSF, Voris said. In Fresno, the program provides clinical training to third- and fourth-year students and residents.
UCSF Fresno has trained 3,000 doctors since 1975. That’s now 600 a year, taught by a core faculty that has grown from one to 230, officials say.
Currently, there are 250 residents training in eight different specialties such as emergency medicine, family and community medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics, said Dr. Michael Peterson, interim associate dean.
Fifty fellows, or doctors who choose to extend their training, are in 17 subspecialties such as cardiology, gastroenterology and infectious diseases, he said. The doctors train in three major local hospitals: Community Regional Medical Center, the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center Fresno and Valley Children’s Hospital.
Among the program’s accomplishments is establishing the first emergency medicine residency program in 1979, Peterson said. “We currently have the busiest level one trauma center in California staffed entirely by our faculty with residents and fellows,” he said.
Expanding health care specialties, such as the neurological services, also has helped the community, he said. Previously, people had to leave Fresno if they developed brain tumors.
“We now have those facilities so people don’t have to leave,” Peterson said.
Pediatrician and faculty member Serena Yang said teaching techniques also have changed over the years. Residents are not just trained in clinics and hospitals but also are partnering with community organizations and school districts to do things like keep kids healthy or find out why they are not, she said.
“By the time they start seeing patients, they learn about how the heart works, how the lung works and how the kidney works, but how do we teach them about how people behave and how they think,” Yang said. “It’s more than just giving a prescription.”
Voris, the retired associate dean, hopes the program will work to strengthen research and advocacy opportunities in the future. She said the program’s top two accomplishments are attracting and keeping doctors and providing clinical care for underserved patients in Fresno.
Faulkenberry-Miranda, the pediatrician, works and teaches in downtown Fresno. She joined the UCSF faculty after graduation.
“I want to take care of the patient population we have in the downtown area,” Faulkenberry-Miranda said. “They are very thankful for the care they receive and appreciative. It makes going to work a lot of fun and it allows me to teach the residents.”