BY DOROTHY LELAND AND ADAM GRAY
In 1988, the University of California Board of Regents approved the location of the 10th University of California campus. After considering 80 different sites, the regents’ final selection of Merced reverberated throughout the city. The entire Merced community, from elected and civic leaders to enthusiastic high school students, embraced the prospect of the campus and recognized how it could create vast improvements for an area facing serious economic, educational and environmental challenges.
The UC is one of the greatest and most prestigious public university systems in the world, and its strength in medical research and education is unparalleled.
As a result, the establishment of a University of California campus in Merced in 2005 was also recognized as an ideal opportunity for helping address the shortages of physicians and the public health issues facing the entire San Joaquin Valley.
Opening a medical school at UC Merced is not a recent hope. It was part of the original dream.
As early as December 2006, a planning group consisting of academic leaders from UC Merced, UC San Francisco, UC Davis and UCSF Fresno met to discuss options for a medical education program in the San Joaquin Valley with the goal of creating a medical school at UC Merced.
A Valley Coalition for UC Merced Medical School was also formed to support the development of a medical school. The coalition was comprised of more than 200 health-care officials, business and community leaders, and elected officials who were dedicated to addressing the region’s severe shortage of primary-care physicians and medical specialists.
Progress slowed due to economic conditions and budget challenges, but UC Merced continued to make advances in the areas of medical research and medical education.
Having recently finished its first decade, UC Merced has unquestionably made an impact. In addition to groundbreaking research into cancer, stem cells, HIV and other global health issues, UC Merced researchers are tackling regional public health concerns. Valley fever is one area in which we have a strong funded research agenda, and our researchers are working to address obesity, diabetes, nutrition, health disparities, early childhood development and effective public health communications.
Several years ago, UC Merced established the Health Sciences Research Institute (HSRI) to focus on research that will improve the health of people in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Faculty associated with HSRI have engaged in reviews of various medical education programs that might best respond to the critical needs of the Valley. To support this effort, and cultivate additional resources, UC Merced is recruiting for a new medical education director.
UC Merced is also helping to train future doctors.
In 2011, several UC partners worked to establish the San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME), a collaborative effort involving UC Merced, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, and UCSF Fresno to train medical students to be outstanding patient care providers and patient advocates, especially for underserved communities in the San Joaquin Valley.We have succeeded in identifying additional funding to help expand and enhance SJV PRIME, and for further research into the many health issues facing the Valley.
Our ultimate goal is to address Valley health-care needs through a medical school and allied health education and research. In the 2014-15 state budget, the Legislature approved $1 million for a study on improving health care access in the Valley, including through the creation of a medical school. We anticipate the findings of this study to be released by late May.
When released, we will look forward to convening stakeholders committed to the goal of a medical school at the campus to discuss next steps. To be successful, we must work with our other legislators, allied health partners and educational institutions to continue finding creative, collaborative solutions.
As a community, we have demonstrated our unwavering commitment to the creation of the medical school at UC Merced. It will not be easy, but addressing the health care disparities in the San Joaquin Valley through the creation of a medical school and other programs such as public health is a moral imperative. Working collectively, we are up to the task.
Dorothy Leland is chancellor of UC Merced. Adam C. Gray represents the 21st Assembly District which includes all of Merced County and portions of Stanislaus County.