The University of California, Merced, has formed a partnership with the UC Davis School of Medicine to begin training medical students in the San Joaquin Valley.
The first cohort of six medical students will enter the program in Fall 2011. Fred Meyers, M.D., executive director of Medical Education and Academic Planning for UC Merced, will present details of the program to the UC Board of Regents this afternoon (Sept. 15). The presentation is for informational purposes only. Meyers also is a professor and executive associate dean in the UC Davis School of Medicine.
The collaboration represents another step forward in UC Merced's multiphase process to develop a medical education program and to enhance health and healthcare in the San Joaquin Valley, leading to the development of a UC Merced School of Medicine.
The UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education  (PRIME) will draw on the established strengths of the internationally recognized medical education and research programs at UC Davis, particularly the campus' existing Rural-PRIME . The new PRIME also will build on the emerging strengths of UC Merced's Health Sciences Research Institute  and Center of Excellence for the Study of Health Disparities in Rural and Ethnic Underserved Populations .
The focus of UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME is to prepare the best and brightest students for rewarding careers in medicine in the ethnically diverse and underserved San Joaquin Valley.
"The new UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME leverages partnerships and existing resources to speed up development of a high-quality medical education program at our campus," UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said. "The program is based on an established University of California model designed to produce physician leaders who are trained in and committed to providing care for underserved populations throughout California.
"Improving the health of the San Joaquin Valley with strong community partnerships has been and will continue to be a major emphasis at UC Merced."
Alliances and community support such as that offered by the Valley Coalition for UC Merced Medical School continue to be an essential component of the medical education planning process.
"I applaud the resourceful approach the University of California is taking by establishing this program," said Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "It is among the most significant and tangible results we have seen to date in our efforts to establish an independently accredited medical school in our community. This marks a significant step toward improving local access to health care. I remain proud of the Valley Coalition for UC Merced Medical School and all those at UC Merced and across the Valley, who are working to address our region's significant health care challenges."
"Our program focuses on excellence in student education and integrates continuous quality-of-care improvements," said Meyers. "It emphasizes the importance of community-based research to enhance the health and well being of everyone living in the San Joaquin Valley and, ultimately, it enables these future physicians to become the leaders of health care and public health in the Valley."
The first cohort of six medical students will enter the program in Fall 2011, with clinical rotations in the Valley set to begin at partner institutions in 2013, according to program leaders. Applications to the program are being accepted until Oct. 1.
"Students truly interested in community-based medicine and addressing health-care issues unique to the San Joaquin Valley will find this program particularly attractive," said Dr. Donald M. Hilty, co-director of the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME, professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the Rural-PRIME at UC Davis School of Medicine.
California faces both a critical shortage of and an uneven distribution of physicians throughout the state and the gap continues to widen — especially in the San Joaquin Valley. The planned School of Medicine at UC Merced is intended to help address that shortage, with a special focus on Valley health issues. Planning for the new school will be done in phases as the state's economy recovers and more resources become available. The current emphasis is on developing strong baccalaureate-level programs in health science.
"The health needs of the San Joaquin Valley are well documented," said Dr. John D. Stobo, senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services for the University of California. "The development of a UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME in conjunction with UC Davis enables UC to develop the high-quality programs required to address the pressing health concerns of the Valley in a meaningful and expeditious way."
Planning for a medical school at UC Merced began before the arrival of undergraduate students at UC Merced in Fall 2005. Following is a timeline of the progress to date:
Planning for medical education is ongoing. Meanwhile, UC Merced continues to develop its core academic and research programs, including the Health Sciences Research Institute  and the Center of Excellence for the Study of Health Disparities in Rural and Ethnic Underserved Populations  (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
UC Merced already has existing majors that satisfy medical school preparatory requirements and, importantly, offer students degrees that will immediately prepare them for the workplace. In addition, a minor in public health was recently approved, which will focus on epidemiology, health disparities, biological mechanisms of disease and statistical analysis.