There’s a place to donate money to support UCSF medical school branch campus in Fresno

UCSF School of Medicine is establishing a "branch campus" at UCSF Fresno for the medical education of students in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education.
UCSF School of Medicine is establishing a "branch campus" at UCSF Fresno for the medical education of students in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education.

Update Sept. 27, 2018: Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation into law establishing an endowment fund for public and private donations to support a Fresno branch campus of the UCSF School of Medicine.

The legislation by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, will allow the program to have ongoing financial support to expand from an initial 12 students, said Dr. Michael Peterson, associate dean of UCSF Fresno. The endowment also could allow for scholarships and other financial aid for the medical students, he said. “We know many of our students will be coming from families that are socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

Original story July 10, 2018: Fresno will have a branch campus of the UCSF School of Medicine under a plan to train medical students and retain them as doctors to serve residents in the medically needy San Joaquin Valley.

UCSF students enrolled in the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education will spend 18 months at the University of California at San Francisco medical campus and them move to Fresno for the remaining years of their training.

The training program, known as SJV PRIME, has been based at UC Davis School of Medicine but UCSF received approval recently to take it over. The transfer opened the door for UCSF to establish a branch medical school campus in Fresno.

Fresno now will have medical students spending the last two and a half years of training in Fresno. “This will be their home campus,” said Dr. Michael W. Peterson, associate dean at UCSF Fresno. Under UC Davis, the medical students had been spending their third year of school in Fresno.

The addition of a Fresno medical school branch campus will provide a full spectrum of medical training in the central San Joaquin Valley. UCSF Fresno already trains more than 300 medical residents and fellows each year. And a hope is that SJV PRIME medical school students will apply for residencies in Fresno. UCSF Fresno says about 50 percent of the doctors who graduate from its residency and fellowship programs remain in the Valley to provide care.

A goal of the SJV PRIME program in Fresno is to grow the number of students from a current 12 medical students to 50 students, Peterson said. Eventually, the plan is to have the students in Fresno for all four years of medical school, he said.

“The establishment of a branch medical campus at UCSF Fresno and the transfer of the SJV PRIME to UCSF creates an exciting opportunity for students who are passionately pursuing medical education, clinical care, and research, to address the unmet needs and unique health issues impacting the San Joaquin Valley,” Dr. Talmadge E. King Jr., dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, said in a written statement. “We expect this new development will enable us to further address physician shortages in the region, and academically prepare a pipeline of students, particularly those from the Valley, for careers in health and medicine.”

Assemblymen Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and Adam Gray, D-Merced, said in email statements they applaud the establishment of a branch campus at UCSF Fresno.

“As someone who worked as an emergency room doctor, I know what it’s like when it’s all hands on deck,” Arambula said. “And that’s what we’re facing in the Valley — a dire shortage of physicians to serve our people. I’m glad to see our institutions of higher education undertaking programs that will train and bring more doctors to our Valley.”

Gray said the UCSF Fresno branch campus fulfills a commitment to improving health care in the San Joaquin Valley that leaders made at a summit he attended last month at UC Merced. “ We identified a number of short- and long-term opportunities to bring more medical professionals to the Valley, make health care more accessible to the people who live here, and improve local medical education opportunities. Today, we are turning words into action. The San Joaquin Valley PRIME program has proven that educating medical students here at home means they will likely stay here to practice medicine. The establishment of a UCSF branch campus in the Valley is the next evolution of the program. This brings us one step closer to making a fully independent medical school in the Valley a reality.”

The long-term goal has been for an independent medical school in the Valley. UC Regents gave conceptual approval for a new medical school in Merced in 2009, but the project has not progressed. UC Merced officials said last year that their focus is on increasing undergraduate and graduate student enrollment through 2020.

The location of a branch campus is not indicative of the eventual location of a medical school, said James Leonard, a spokesman for UC Merced. “UC Merced is proud to partner with UCSF to build upon the strong foundation of SJV-PRIME that we established with UC Davis, and fortunate to have the support from Adam Gray to help us expand the program. We are all working together toward the ultimate goal of establishing a medical school in the Valley, and this is another step along that journey.”

Peterson said UC Merced will play a role in medical education of the SJV PRIME students. UC Merced faculty have provided some of the foundational science instruction to medical students during their clinical rotations at UCSF Fresno. And UC Merced and Fresno State serve as a pipeline for students interested in careers in medicine.

The SJV PRIME program seeks to attract students from the region, Peterson said. And if students are not from the Valley, the program looks for students who represent the demographic groups of the patient population or who have experience working with vulnerable and underserved populations, he said.

Applications for the fall 2019 SJV PRIME are being accepted now. UC Davis PRIME will continue for the first-year students who were admitted this year and who are expected to graduate in 2022.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter