Assemi family pitches Clovis site for osteopathic medical school

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

The Assemi family, which opened a private pharmacy school in Clovis four years ago, on Tuesday announced plans for a college of osteopathic medicine that would open with a first class in fall 2019.

California Health Sciences University, which operates the pharmacy school, has been granted approval to begin an accreditation process for a medical college, said Florence Dunn, university president.

Temporary administrative offices for the medical school will be at 65 N. Clovis Ave., in a new 9,000-square-foot building under construction, the university said. The university’s permanent campus will be on four parcels of land totaling 60 acres near Temperance Avenue and Highway 168, just north of Clovis Community Medical Center.

The master plan for the university campus is for up to 10 colleges, starting with the Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Pharmacy. The campus will include student housing, labs, classrooms, a student center, a library and an auditorium. The Assemi family has dropped plans for building a medical campus near Millerton Lake.

“It’s always been our dream to launch a medical school,” said Farid Assemi, a member of the Assemi family of developers, which started the university. The family is most known for building homes under the name Granville Homes.

It’s always been our dream to launch a medical school.

Farid Assemi

The medical school would address a shortage of doctors in the central San Joaquin Valley, Dunn said. Osteopathic doctors, known by the degree initials DO, tend to practice in primary care, which would fill a critical need in the Valley. Statewide, there are 64 primary care doctors per 100,000 patients, but in the Valley, there are 47.

The university’s four-year pharmacy school has an emphasis on training pharmacists to provide primary care to patients.

The osteopathic medical school would focus on recruiting students from the central San Joaquin Valley, as has the pharmacy school, Dunn said. Of the 170 pharmacy students, 61 percent are from the Valley, she said.

Opening a private osteopathic school is more financially feasible than starting a Doctor of Medicine (MD degree) school, such as those housed at University of California campuses, including UCSF-Fresno. The doctor of medicine schools include medical research, which is expensive to offer, Dunn said.

But opening an osteopathic school of medicine won’t be cheap, and Assemi said the family is working with an out-of-town investor, whom he would not identify. “Their purpose is to take care of the underserved,” he said. “They have the same mission as us.”

The osteopathic school can be accredited once the California Health Sciences University’s pharmacy school receives full accreditation. Dunn said the university has been granted “applicant status” from the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine website, it represents 33 accredited colleges in the United States, and they provide instruction at 48 teaching locations in 31 states. Six of the colleges are publicly controlled and 27 are private institutions. The colleges are educating more than 26,100 future physicians – more than 20 percent of U.S. medical students.

There are two osteopathic medical colleges in California, one in Vallejo and one in Pomona.

This creates a great pathway for students from our Valley to graduate from medical school and stay here.

Darius Assemi

Assemi and brother Darius Assemi said opening a college in three years is possible. They visited Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, a private osteopathic college of medicine in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It was opened in 18 months.

“This creates a great pathway for students from our Valley to graduate from medical school and stay here,” Darius Assemi said.

And opening an osteopathic medical school will boost the economy, Darius Assemi said. A medical school in Clovis, with more than 90 faculty and the potential of about 150 students, should pump $100 million into the economy annually, he said.

The osteopathic medical school will need faculty and training sites. Dunn said the university will work with Adventist Health hospitals and others in the Valley. “We cannot displace any existing residency spots,” she said. “We have to create new ones.”

Community Medical Centers is supportive of the proposed medical school’s mission to recruit more local students into the field of medicine, especially in a region that’s medically underserved, said Tim Joslin, president and CEO of Community Medical Centers. “But Community Medical Centers has not discussed any formal role with the school at this point,” he said. “We look forward to those discussions in the future, but in no way would CHSU’s medical program displace residents from the thriving residency program we have currently with UCSF.”

In a news release on the plans for the osteopathic school of medicine, the university quoted Wayne Ferch, president/CEO and corporate senior vice president of the Adventist Health Central Valley Region. “Adventist Health recognizes the need for more physicians as we seek to care for the medical needs of the many people living in the Valley,” he said.

Adventist is supportive of the university’s “plans to expand access to physicians who have a desire to serve in rural communities through the establishment of a medical school,” Ferch said.

Faculty will come from out of the Valley as well as from inside, Dunn said. “I’ve been assured (that) for the right reason and the right place, there are people who want to come here,” she said.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter