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Doctor Shortage: Two New I.E. Healthcare Schools Work To Address Primary Care Shortage

Benjamin Purper

Two new schools in San Bernardino are preparing locals for future jobs in health care -- as techs, medical assistant and physicians. As part of our ongoing series on the Inland Empire’s doctor shortage, KVCR’s Benjamin Purper has the story.

At Pomona College, a group of medical students walk in procession to the music of a string quartet. This is their White Coat Ceremony, where they don the iconic symbol of the medical profession for the first time.

They take the Hippocratic Oath and begin their training as a physician.

These medical students are new, and so is the school they’re attending. The California University of Science and Medicine, accredited February 2018, is one of the country’s youngest medical schools.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Eveland shows me around the San Bernardino campus where the school’s first class of med students will study.

“Right now California has right around 35 primary care physicians for every 100000, especially in the Inland Empire, residents,” he says. “36 percent of the physicians are over age 60. So considering that I mean with the retirements in the very near horizon we've got a lot of work to do.”

CSUM is located in San Bernardino while a new permanent facility is being built in Colton. And location is important – the school is training med students to meet this area’s severe doctor shortage. Part of that is giving scholarships to students from the Inland Empire.

“They get an additional amount of money for that, and then finally they are rewarded for either coming from a low socio-economic status - which 33 percent of our current class is of that category - or for academic merit. We're very excited about that.”

Eveland is confident that recruiting med students from this area will help meet the Inland Empire’s doctor shortage. He’s done the math.

“If you just project out a few years and consider when we have our first four classes for classes graduate and put their shingles up, the research shows that the general practitioners generally see roughly an average of 19 or 20 patients a day,” Eveland says.

“If you multiply that figure times 210 workdays in the year, in just a few short years the number of patient visits that those first four classes will see are over 2 million a year. So when you talk about physician shortage and meeting a need, that's an incredible thing. And we're just getting started.”

But training new physicians isn’t the only way to address the shortage. While CSUM is minting future physicians, the San Manuel Gateway College is working to ease the doctor shortage by educating medical assistants and pharmacy techs.

Gateway is an occupational learning center focused on certificate programs for jobs in health care.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
The inaugural class of the California University of Science and Medicine exits in procession after donning their white coats.

Executive Director Arwyn Wild says addressing the doctor shortage is going to take more than just attracting more doctors to this area; it’s also going to take more entry- and mid-level healthcare professionals.

“Hopefully [having] doctors and professionals that have been exposed to the needs of community is going to make a huge difference on how they deliver care and you know how they're tied to the community,” Wild says.

Wild says that the majority of the students in the Gateway program come from the city of San Bernardino. That gives them an in-depth understanding of this area’s challenges, but it also creates barriers to their success.

“Most of them are first or second generation immigrants. A lot of them were born here but their parents were born outside of the country they immigrated here. So they become the primary navigator for the family.”

Wild sees training people from San Bernardino to care for people from San Bernardino as an investment in the community.

“We've had some transformation stories. That for us is where the bottom line is. If we change lives, it's an investment in the community it's an investment in the future of this area.”

And Wild says some of the students trained here will go on to be doctors, and probably stay in this area.

We have some potential doctors are starting here. One of the things that we ask our students: ‘Okay, what's your dream?’ I can't tell you how many of them have a dream of becoming a doctor, pediatrician, a surgeon.”

The San Manuel Gateway College is accepting applications on a rolling basis. The California University of Science and Medicine is accepting applications for the class of 2023.

This story was produced as a project for the USC AnnenbergCenter for Health Journalism’s California Fellowship.

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