New San Bernardino County medical school seeks to homegrow community doctors

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A shortage of doctors in the Inland Empire and fierce medical school competition in the state are driving a multi-million dollar effort to bring a new medical school to San Bernardino County.

Backers of the school, named the California University of Science and Medicine, or Cal-Med, have a $40 million commitment from the Prime Healthcare Foundation. They are in the process of purchasing property in Colton and are hiring a dean to begin the accreditation process.

Training doctors in the community to address a local need

Founder Deve GnanaDev, who is chief of surgery at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, said he started the school to train and keep doctors in the area. He also said a new school will help lessen the dearth of medical school seats in the state.

“It’s a California problem, our population grew, our needs grew and we didn’t have enough medical schools,” he said. “My goal is to take students from our neighborhood, a significant number of them, get them through med school, put them in residencies especially in primary care and let them practice in community.”

Within the next decade the U.S. will be short nearly 100,000 doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Factors include the growing number of baby boomers aging into Medicare, the retirement of baby boomer doctors and the Affordable Care Act, said Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs for the association.

Medical schools have been responding by expanding class sizes and states and other groups have been working to open new schools. 

Where a new school is planted does impact the shortage in that area, Mitchell said.

“A lot of evidence shows where you go to medical school determines where you practice,” she said. “That is why you see people seeing a place where they need a medical school. They do that because they recognize a need for more physicians and are willing to make that investment.”

Nearly two-thirds of doctors who graduate from medical school in California end up working in the state. That number jumps to four out of five when the doctor has completed both medical school and residency in California, according to data from the Association.  The only states with higher retention among new doctors are Hawaii, Arkansas and Texas.

Next step: Expanding California residencies

That’s one of the reasons UC Riverside opened its School of Medicine last summer with 50 students, said Phyllis Guze, associate vice chancellor. The school is providing scholarships to those who commit to practice in the area for a certain amount of time and is paying particular attention to applicants from the inland area.

“Our need is here in the Inland Empire and we feel strongly that if we can get California students and encourage them to practice here in the Inland Empire we will be successful,” she said.

Having another school in the neighborhood is good news for the area and for medical school applicants, she said.

Last year in California, on average, there were 50 applications for every medical school seat at the state’s 9 medical programs, much higher than in other parts of the nation, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The second phase for Cal-Med in keeping its students in the area is to funnel graduates to local residency programs. GnanaDev is already working with local hospitals to build those residency programs.

Mitchell, of the Association, said increasing the number of residencies is a nationwide challenge. Congress holds the purse strings for those positions, because they are largely funded through Medicare, and so far there has been no move to boost funding.

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