Medical student Crystal Deedas leans over and peeks into the ears and noses of pint-sized patients she's caring for during her rotation at the Riverside Medical Clinic.
"Does this hurt?" she asks an 8-year-old boy visiting the clinic with his mother.
"What about now?" she says, as she further examines his ear.
There’s nothing unusual about a medical student, such as Deedas, doing supervised work on real- life patients. That’s all part of the clinical rotation experience required by medical schools. But what is unique is that Deedas is seeing patients in her first year of medical school. Typically, med students wait until their third year before getting such clinical experience.
Deedas, of Riverside, is part of the second class to enroll at the new University of California Riverside School of Medicine. The school opened last summer, in large part, to address the growing doctor shortage in the Inland Empire.
“We need physicians," says Dr. Ravi Berry, a pediatrician at the Riverside Medical Clinic who mentors Deedas. "If we grow our own they stay in the area."
To combat that dearth of doctors, administrators at UCR's School of Medicine have created a novel program aimed at attracting home-grown med students, training them and then keeping the newly-minted doctors in the region.
“We have to provide for the physician manpower for inland Southern California. We also have to train doctors that are going into the fields that society needs,” says Richard Olds, dean of the School of Medicine and UCR vice chancellor of health affairs. “We want the physicians that we train to be reflective of the cultural, ethnic and economic diversity of our region and we want to improve the health of the community we serve.”
And key, he says, is to attract and enroll local students.
“About 40 percent of the decision where doctors practice is based on where they come from, their family connections, where they were born, went to high school and went to college,” Olds says.
To find those candidates, he says, admissions officers sift through a pile of applications in search of students who have local roots and community ties.
Olds says there were 5,600 applicants for the 50 seats in this year's class. Only 10 percent of them were from the area. Still, administrators managed to fill more than half of the seats with local students, such as Deedas.
But the efforts don't end there.
The other important factor in where a doctor ends up practicing is where they finish their training, Olds said.
So he aims to address that, too, by creating new residencies in the area.
This is the three to five year training that doctors get after they graduate from medical school.
But those offered at the UC Riverside Medical School veer from tradition, Olds says. Most residency programs, which provide doctors with three to five years of post-graduate clinical training, take place at university-run hospitals. UC Riverside doesn’t have its own med center, it instead collaborates with local hospitals and clinics to provide the training.
So far, 100 med school graduates are now enrolled as residents. Olds hopes the community training they'll receive will further embed the young doctors into the community.
That sounds appealing to Sarah Gomez, a Riverside local and second year student at UC Riverside Medical School. Gomez says she's eager to apply for one of the local residencies once she graduates.
“You want to be somewhere where you can impact change," she says. "The easiest and best way to do that is in your home town.”
One additional arrow in the UCR Med School quiver, Olds says, is financial assistance in the form of a dozen full-tuition scholarships for students who commit to practice medicine locally for at least five years.
Pediatric medical student Deedas is among this year's recipients.
“It was a perfect match,” she says. “I always intended on practicing near my family. And my family is in Riverside.”