New Southern California Medical School To Tackle Doctor Shortages

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CLAREMONT, Calif. — The Claremont Colleges plans to open a medical school, the fourth new campus designed to produce physicians for parts of Southern California struggling with shortages.

The Keck Graduate Institute School of Medicine will focus on primary care and treating the growing Latino population in California, institute officials announced this week. The school hopes to hire its founding dean by next summer, and open a few years after that.

Administrators hope many of the graduates will stay to practice medicine in eastern Los Angeles County or the Inland Empire, an ethnically diverse region that encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino counties and is home to about 4 million people.

“Our goal is to recruit them from here, train them here and keep them here,” said Sheldon Schuster, president of the Keck Graduate Institute. The institute is part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate and two graduate institutions about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. The institute already has a pharmacy school.

“There is such an incredible demand for people who … understand the community and who speak the language,” Schuster said.

The campus joins a wave of new medical schools across the nation that began opening in the early 2000s. “There has been a huge increase in the last 15 years,” said Atul Grover, executive vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Historically, however, California had not been part of that wave. Now, he said, “the state has been trying to play catch-up.”

The California University of Science and Medicine, funded by the Prime Healthcare Foundation, is debuting this summer in Colton, in San Bernardino County, with a class of 60. The University of California-Riverside School of Medicine, which opened in 2013, recently graduated its second class, made up of 49 medical students.

Kaiser Permanente’s medical school in Pasadena is under construction and expected to welcome its first class next year. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

The new schools in California and around the nation not only can expand the workforce, but also increase its diversity, said Holly Humphrey, president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, which focuses on medical education.

Only about 5 percent of physicians in California are Latino, though Latinos make up about 38 percent of the population, according to a recent report by University of California researchers and funded by the California Health Care Foundation. (California Healthline is an editorially independent publication of the California Health Care Foundation.)

The new medical schools, though smaller than established Southern California institutions such as Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Keck School of Medicine of USC, could help change that and expand the limited supply of doctors in the Inland Empire. The ratio of both primary care doctors and specialists per 100,000 residents in the area is roughly half that in the greater Bay Area, according to the University of California-San Francisco Healthforce Center.

San Bernardino and Riverside counties also have a higher proportion of Latinos than the state as a whole, according to the U.S. Census.

Douglas Grover, 32, grew up in Moreno Valley and graduated from UC-Riverside’s first medical school class last year. He stayed on at the university for his residency in psychiatry, a specialty whose rates in the Inland Empire are far below those statewide.

Grover said he wants to practice in the area so he can give back to his community.

“If we open more opportunities here for college students to enter medical school, it will provide more physicians over the long run and hopefully help with the disparities in these areas,” he said.

Dr. Raj Sindher, a primary care physician and president of the Riverside County Medical Association, said he sees the need for more physicians every day. “We have so many patients that we cannot handle,” he said.

At the same time, he said, recruiting new doctors is “extremely difficult” because they are often drawn to bigger practices in more urban areas — or they stay where they completed their residencies, the on-the-job training they require to become doctors.

New medical schools will have to make a concerted effort to find the students who want to remain in the area in which they train, said Janet Coffman, UCSF professor of health policy and co-author of the report on physician shortages. There also need to be more local opportunities for recent graduates to complete their residencies, she said.

“Just having a new medical school and more folks graduating medical school is no guarantee that those new physicians are going to practice in the parts of the state where they are most needed,” she said.

The Claremont medical school plans to work closely with community health centers and hospitals in the area, including Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Students will be trained to work in teams alongside other providers and to understand the latest on genetics, artificial intelligence and data, Schuster said.

“Medicine is going to change very dramatically in the next decade,” he said. “We want the school to have a real emphasis on both community and on science.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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