Accelerated Medical School Proposal Could Yield More Physicians, Less Debt

Assembly member Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) yesterday said her bill to accelerate the medical school process from four years to three could have a significant impact for the state. AB 1838 would help young physicians by lightening the weight of their school loans and help California by having physicians start their practices a year early, Bonilla said.

Getting medical students through school a year early could eventually increase the number of physicians in California, Bonilla added. 

“We’re constantly looking for a way to increase access to health care,” Bonilla said. “This is one of the pieces, one way to ultimately meet that need.”

The three-year accelerated path through medical school has been tried in recent years at medical schools in New York and Texas. This bill would open California’s doors to those three-year accredited physicians, as well.

“We’re responding to a need here to offer an accelerated program,” Bonilla said, “and it’s a way to allow others to come to California.”

UC Davis would kick off the new accelerated program, Bonilla said. It plans to enroll its first class of four accelerated students in the summer of 2014. That choice of school has an added benefit, Bonilla said, in that the accelerated students would be on the rural primary care path — a particular need in California communities, she said.

“Primary care doctors, that’s where we see the greatest need,” she said. “We know we need more physicians in California to make good on the promise of health care reform. So this is a long-range solution, it isn’t an immediate fix.  But if we start now, it will help.”

The bill was developed with the help of both the University of California and the Medical Board of California.  

For many students, Bonilla said, the fourth year of medical school is focused almost entirely on electives and applying for residency. The test scores and residency placements of three-year medical students compare favorably to four-year students, she said.

The UC system has six of the nine medical schools in California. UC medical centers provide specialty training for nearly half of the state’s medical residents.   

“The University of California believes this change in law is straightforward and will benefit the state by reducing unnecessary and outdated barriers to practice in the state,” according to Cathryn Nation, the associate vice president of health sciences and services for the UC system, in a written statement.

The California Medical Association has not yet taken a position on the bill.

The bill will be discussed by the Assembly Committee on Business, Professions and Consumer Protection on March 25.

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