The Desert Healthcare District (DHCD) recently made a significant investment in the new School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside. This investment will pay enormous dividends for the Coachella Valley in expanded access to primary medical care and new programs to improve health outcomes in underserved communities.

The decision to grant “preliminary accreditation” to the UCR medical school was recently made by the national accrediting body for M.D. education programs. This means that the school will enroll its first students in August 2013. The DHCD grant to UCR – $5 million over five years – was pivotal for the medical school to secure additional non-state funding and successfully reapply for accreditation.

The launch of the UCR medical school demonstrates the power of leveraging grant funds of the Desert Healthcare District to create transformative progress in meeting the healthcare needs of District residents, according to Kathy Greco, chief executive officer of the District. “We are so pleased and proud to play such a significant role in creating the state’s first new public medical school in more than four decades. This medical school will not only benefit Coachella Valley residents, but will also develop innovative new ways of improving the health of underserved communities that will potentially serve as national models,” she said.

Desert Healthcare District funds are supporting four critical objectives of the UCR School of Medicine – establishing a UCR primary care medical practice in the District; developing residency training in partnership with Desert Regional Medical Center; launching a telemedicine infrastructure; and expanding the school’s student pipeline programs into medicine.

Less than a year into the project, the school has established a family practice clinic called UCR Health with two new clinical faculty medical school members, Dr. Tahany Habashy and Dr. Andrew Alexander. Recruiting is underway for additional family medicine physicians and internists. An additional five physicians are expected to join UCR Health in the next six months.

Parallel to development of the clinical enterprise, the UCR medical school is developing residency programs (post-M.D. training required for physicians to become board certified in specialties). The principal determinants of where physicians practice are where they grew up and where they finished training. So establishing residency training programs is a major focus of the medical school to expand the physician workforce in the Coachella Valley.

Grant funds are also supporting development of a smart classroom in the District to connect residents and faculty to educational programs originating from the UCR campus. Telemedicine carts funded by the grant will be installed at locations in the District to link patients to physicians at other sites and to specialists outside the District. Finally, the District is supporting expansion of the school’s pipeline programs that prepare more middle, high school, and college students from the Coachella Valley for careers in medicine.

While not directly supported by grant funds, the District’s support of the medical school is also enabling UCR to work collaboratively with a variety of organizations in the Valley including the Health Assessment Resource Center (HARC), the Desert AIDS Project, and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership Workforce Excellence Programs.

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