The University of California, Merced's efforts to establish a medical school received a boost recently in the form of a $225,000 seed grant from the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. UC Merced will use the funds to start a telemedicine network, which will help improve access to healthcare in the underserved region and provide a fundamental building block for a medical school in the Valley.
“We are extremely grateful to Gov. Schwarzenegger, the Legislature and the Partnership board members for investing in the San Joaquin Valley,” said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang. “The Valley represents California's future and through this unique collaborative project, UC Merced is taking action now to ensure the health and well being of this great state and our rapidly growing and exceptionally diverse region for years to come.”
Through the “San Joaquin Valley eHealth Network Project,” the campus's initial aim is to establish eHealth Centers at four different Valley sites along with a network hub at UC Merced. Each eHealth Center will be equipped to provide telemedicine patient services via videoconferencing and specialized equipment for telemedicine. The centers also will be used to provide training for physicians, medical students and allied health professionals throughout the region.
“Telemedicine and eHealth offer unique opportunities to address the Valley's healthcare needs,” said UC Merced Dean of Natural Sciences Maria Pallavicini, who along with UCSF Fresno Associate Dean Joan Voris, are spearheading efforts to establish a medical school in the San Joaquin Valley. “Developing eHealth Centers is an important early step toward raising the level of care in the Valley, providing training for healthcare personnel and keeping healthcare dollars in the region.”
“This is just the beginning,” added Pallavicini, “Establishing a medical school in the Valley is the surest way to address our tremendous health care provider shortages.”
A number of organizations have expressed interest in partnering with UC Merced to develop the eHealth Center Network, including UC Davis; UCSF Fresno; Central Valley Health Network; California Emerging Technology Fund; California Telemedicine and eHealth Center; AT&T; Great Valley Center; and United Cerebral Palsy of San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador Counties.
UC Merced's eHealth project was one of 15 seed grants - totaling $2.5 million - awarded to advance the work of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley in turning around the region and improving the economy and quality of life for area residents.
UC Merced first announced plans to develop health sciences and medical education programs in the Valley in March 2006. To inform and involve community members in the process, the campus held a series of community meetings throughout the region during March and April 2006. With broad-based support from the Valley, in June 2006, UC Merced submitted a preliminary plan to the UC Office of the President to establish a medical education program leading to a school of medicine. Currently, the campus is preparing a more detailed business proposal and economic impact report, which should be completed later this summer. UC Merced's plan is to establish a medical school to address the disproportionate physician shortage in the Valley, with a particular emphasis on training physicians who are competent in multi-cultural health care and who are committed to serving the needs of the San Joaquin Valley. The proposed medical school is based on academic partnerships and utilizes existing resources in the Valley and sister UC campuses.
When submitted, UC Merced's proposal must go through customary University - and state - review and approval processes for consideration of all new programs and schools.
Meanwhile, UC Merced continues to grow the two main research arms affiliated with the proposed medical school - biomedical sciences and population-based health research.