Valley's need for a UC Merced medical school is dire

By DENNIS CARDOZA and JIM COSTA
http://www.modbee.com

The San Joaquin Valley is facing a health care crisis, suffering from a physician shortage and a lack of adequate health care resources. Recent reports tell us the problem is worse than initially thought and likely to worsen.

The best way to address this health care emergency is promptly to establish an independently accredited school of medicine at the University of California at Merced that will serve the entire valley.

It takes seven to 10 years to produce practicing physicians. Therefore, it is critical that we begin to establish the medical school now. California is expected to face a shortage of as many as 17,000 physicians by 2015. Such a shortfall will have an adverse and disproportionate impact on the San Joaquin Valley, where we already face a critical physician shortage.

Valley residents are medically underserved, with only 87 primary care physicians per 100,000 people versus the statewide rate of 126 primary care physicians per 100,000. The number of medical specialists per capita is even lower when compared with other parts of the state.

The University of California’s Health Sciences Advisory Council recommended a 34 percent increase in medical student enrollment by 2020 to meet increasing demand for doctors. The council also recognized that medical education programs need to be developed in the Central Valley and in the Inland Empire, where projected population growth rates are twice that of the rest of the state. There is strong evidence that new physicians choose to settle into full-time practice near where they train, so establishment of a medical school to serve the valley is critical for the health of the region.

The UC system understands the challenges of meeting our future health care needs, and the valley community is coalescing around the plan to bring a medical school to UC Merced. Based on more than three years of careful and highly consultative planning, the campus proposes to establish a school of medicine in partnership with the University of California at Davis and University of California at San Francisco schools of medicine.

The proposed model is called the community-based distributed model. It is the most cost-effective and expeditious way to establish a school of medicine that will serve the needs of the San Joaquin Valley. The model builds on the strong health sciences research base at UC Merced and leverages the resources of sister UC medical schools. Importantly, the model uses existing health care resources and facilities in the valley instead of building a teaching hospital, which is cost prohibitive in the current fiscal climate.

As proposed, the first two years of medical education would be on the UC Merced campus, and the second two years of instruction would be in a clinical setting, with the first clinical campus slated to be in partnership with UC San Francisco’s Fresno Medical Education Program. The clinical campus would build upon the investments made in UC San Francisco’s new residency facility in downtown Fresno, and it would provide students with a broad array of hospitals for clinical rotations during their residency. The greater Fresno area has seven hospitals.

Additional clinical campuses throughout the valley would be developed. More than 20 of the largest community hospitals and health centers in the valley are eager to collaborate with

UC Merced to focus teaching and research on the region’s health needs.

As members of Congress representing the valley, we urge the UC board of regents to approve continued planning, to provide a reasonable time frame for initiation, and to appoint a task force to devise a financing strategy for the development of the medical school at UC Merced.

Establishing a school of medicine is a long-term process that will require money, including state funds and philanthropy. Steps must be taken to grow our own doctors in the valley to serve our highly diverse and rapidly growing population. We are committed to working collaboratively with the UC, fellow federal and state legislators, and the valley community to establish the medical school and to address our region’s looming health care crisis.

Cardoza and Costa represent valley districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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