Officials at UC Riverside's School of Medicine are pleased that 10 of the 40 students in the first graduating class will work as residents in the Inland Empire, signaling a level of success in the institution's effort to help alleviate the region's doctor shortage.
"I wouldn't say we have achieved our mission or that we're done with all the work we need to do, but I think we as an institution can be proud of all we've achieved," said Dr. Paul Lyons, the medical school's senior associate dean for medical education.
Recruiting local students and convincing them to practice in the Inland Empire is a key goal of the medical school, which opened four years ago.
The two main factors that determine where doctors end up working are where they come from and where they do their residency, says Lyons.
Fifteen of the students about to graduate are from San Bernardino County or Riverside County. Among them was Doug Grover, who grew up in Moreno Valley. He's one of the 10 students who will start their residency locally this summer.
"Growing up here, it was such a neat opportunity for me to give back to my own community," he says.
Grover says he hadn't been aware of the doctor shortage in the Inland Empire until he began attending UC Riverside, adding that the school's mission appealed to him.
"Riverside County, San Bernardino County are some of the most underserved counties in California," he says. "So they really hope to train and hang onto their physicians that they do train here."
Depending on a new doctor's specialty, a residency can last from three to five years.
There are 120 physicians per 100,000 people in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, according to a 2016 California Health Care Foundation report. That rate is much lower than the statewide rate of 194 physicians per 100,000.
"The outcome is the health of the region suffers," says Lyons.
He says he hopes that the number of students who chose to continue their training locally will increase next year. One challenge facing the school is that the number of qualified local applicants is still relatively small compared with the overall applicant pool, he says.
Most residency programs take place at university-run hospitals. UC Riverside doesn’t have its own medical center, so it instead collaborates with local hospitals and clinics to provide the post-graduate training.
The school also offers a dozen full-tuition scholarships for students who commit to practice medicine locally for at least five years.