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First Year of Medical Education Celebrated as Campus Grows Health Research Programs

July 2, 2012

The inaugural group of students in the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education said their first year was challenging, but filled with reminders of why they want to serve their communities.

During the past academic year, the students — also known as the “Valley 5” — worked alongside primary care physicians, seeing patients in clinics and hospice. They also learned about health care issues and health care in the Valley, toured portions of the Valley, and took part in conferences and other activities with other medical students at UC Davis.

“On behalf of UC Merced and our partners at UC Davis School of Medicine and UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, congratulations to the ‘Valley 5’ for completing their first year,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. “By training doctors who are committed to addressing the healthcare needs of the Valley, UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME is an immediate response to regional physician shortages while we continue with a long-term goal of an independently accredited medical school. We look forward to the sustained success of the ‘Valley 5’ and their ultimate return as practicing physicians.”

Although school ended in mid-May, the students are continuing their medical education by spending the summer participating in internships and taking part in other programs, research and training.

The students say UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (PRIME) is offering them real-world experiences in what it’s like to be a doctor.

“The most rewarding aspect, by far, has been helping patients during our clinical experiences at student-run clinics and preceptorship experiences,” said Kelly Fujikawa, a medical student from Fowler. “Each patient experience reminds me of the reasons why I chose to attend medical school.”

Priming Doctors to Serve the Valley

To help address physician workforce shortages throughout California, the University of California launched its Programs in Medical Education (PRIME) in 2004. UC PRIME consists of innovative medical education programs focused on meeting the healthcare needs of the state’s medically underserved populations. A partnership between UC Merced, UC Davis School of Medicine and UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME is the sixth and latest addition to UC PRIME. UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego and UCSF also have Programs in Medical Education.

With just 87 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, the San Joaquin Valley is disproportionately affected by the state’s physician shortage. The situation will only intensify in the years ahead given the high rate of population growth in the Valley.

Training the next generation of physicians who are committed to serving the region is the basis for UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME. It takes seven to 10 years to produce practicing physicians. By combining the resources of three UC campuses, UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME is an immediate response to the region’s need for more physicians and represents a creative, cost-effective and quick way to ramp up medical education in the Valley.

UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland along with leaders from the UC Davis School of Medicine introduced the first cohort of students admitted to the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME in July 2011 at UC Merced.

The second cohort will be announced in late July when the students report for orientation.

Emerging Research Underpinnings

With growth in UC Merced’s public health program and the establishment of the Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI), UC Merced is now positioned to play an active role in the education of students in the program. Faculty affiliated with HSRI will contribute to the orientation of incoming cohort of students, enrich the medical education curriculum by serving as guest lecturers and coordinating the program’s Valley-based components. In addition, emphasis will continue to be on the pursuit of research opportunities focused on health care issues for Valley populations.

“As we wrap up our first year of the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME, it has been a pleasure to be a part of the UC Merced community and to work closely with colleagues at UC Merced, UC Davis and UCSF Fresno to link medical education with health sciences research. Taking health sciences discoveries out of the lab and directly to patients is critical to improving the health of the Valley,” said Frederick J. Meyers, MD, executive director of Medical Education and Academic Planning at UC Merced, and executive associate dean at UC Davis School of Medicine. “The active leadership and enthusiasm of our inaugural class also must be recognized. The ‘Valley 5’ truly is an outstanding class of students and we are grateful for their crucial participation in the successful recruitment of the second cohort.”

Students Share Their Perspectives

“The most challenging part has been trying to balance school and family life. The most rewarding has been seeing the growth and changes in me over the last several months.”

“I feel that I am more interested in working in the Valley than even before. I’m incredibly excited about where my future will take me.”

Sidra Ayub, of Modesto

“The most rewarding aspect, by far, has been helping patients during our clinical experiences at student-run clinics and preceptorship experiences. Each patient experience reminds me of the reasons why I chose to attend medical school.”

“The most challenging aspect of medical school has been to achieve a healthy balance between academics and non-academics. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to pull away from my studies to take time out for myself.”

Kelly Fujikawa, of Fowler

“The most challenging aspect of San Joaquin Valley-PRIME this year was the hospice home visit with a fellow Rural-PRIME student. We met with a patient in his home. This was very different than meeting the person in a clinic. We were supposed to visit him again, but sadly he passed away. We were saddened to hear of his demise even though we knew that his death was something that could happen at any time.”

“Since I enrolled about a year ago, I have to say that my goals have remained the same. I definitely plan to select primary care as my specialty because I see a big need for physicians to work with underserved populations and I predict that the need is only going to grow.”

Agustin Morales, of Salinas

“The most challenging aspect over the past year was getting things situated in preparation for the second and third years of medical school. The most rewarding was getting to work with my peers throughout the year to better prepare us to come back to the San Joaquin Valley.”

“Since first enrolling in the program one year ago, my goals and plans for the future in my practice of medicine have not really changed. I still want to be able to come back to the San Joaquin Valley and practice. I still have my eyes set on internal medicine and infectious disease.”

Randell Rueda, of Fresno

“The most rewarding aspect was being able to represent the San Joaquin Valley. We were the spokespeople to our classmates, professors and patients who were curious about us. We were able to tell people that the Valley is an incredibly diverse place with a rich history and is a region deserving of our attention.”

“The most challenging aspect was balancing school work and other commitments. I have never been busy like this before. It has been an incredible test of organizational skills to pass classes, maintain social connections with family and friends and continue to learn about disparities that face our hometowns.”

Christina Thabit, of Bakersfield