University of California at Merced officials received a unanimous thumbs-up Wednesday from the University of California's Board of Regents to continue their ongoing plans to establish a medical school.
The Board of Regents voted on the issue during a meeting at UCLA, after a presentation by UC Merced officials and supporters of the school about the need for a medical school and more physicians in the San Joaquin Valley.
"The valley's needs have been heard," said Maria Pallavicini, UC Merced's dean of natural sciences. "I think it's really a testimony of how we can all work together and hopefully achieve something really great for the valley."
Pallavicini said UC Merced officials are expected to return to the Board of Regents in 12 to 15 months with a final draft proposal for the medical school. "One of our goals is to be able to recruit and retain physicians who are culturally competent and who reflect the face of California and the valley, and will stay in the valley to practice," Pallavicini said. "Developing a curriculum and a plan to ensure retention of these physicians in the valley will be very critical."
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Speakers at the meetings included Fresno Councilman Larry Westerlund, who is expected to leave shortly for Iraq on active military duty.
In the wake of the Regents' vote Wednesday, UC Merced officials said they will establish an office to focus the medical school's next planning efforts, which will involve developing curriculum and planning for infrastructure.
University hopes for 2013 opening
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang and university officials are keen on having the medical school operational by 2013. They cite the region's physician shortage and lack of adequate health care resources as reasons the medical school is necessary.
UC Merced officials project the first year of planning for the medical school to cost about $2 million, with funding provided by a donation from United Health Foundation. During 2009-11, they estimate costs will be about $7 million, of which $2 million will be supported by that foundation.
UC Merced officials project the medical school will have an operating budget of $11 million to $16 million when it opens in 2013. The annual operating costs associated with the medical school are estimated to be $81 million to $86 million (in 2007-2008 dollars).
Over the past three years, experts from UCSF, UCSF Fresno and UC Davis have participated in planning for the medical school. The concept uses a distributed medical education model that would use partnerships with regional hospitals and clinics. The concept also has garnered the support of more than 20 community hospitals and health centers in the valley.
The San Joaquin Valley has 24 percent fewer primary care physicians and about 51 percent fewer specialists than the rest of the state, according to a UC Merced report.
The medical school would begin with about 32 students and grow to a projected enrollment of 384 students, Pallavicini said.
Backers of the school also spoke to the Board of Regents about the importance of supporting the school even though the state is burdened by a major budget deficit. "We have built a solid vision so that when the financial climate does change, and we all believe it will, that we are ready," Pallavicini said.