The School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside, received good news amid the unsettling coronavirus pandemic: California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $202 billion budget yesterday that allocates $25 million in ongoing funding to the medical school. This additional operational support for the state’s newest and only UC community-based medical school will help the school double its enrollment over several years — from 250 to 500 medical doctors in training.
The expanded enrollment of eventually about 125 students in each incoming class will address the critical shortage in both primary-care and specialist physicians that inland Southern California faces. The Inland Empire, comprised of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, has only 35 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, far short of the 60 to 80 per 100,000 recommended by the California Health Care Foundation.
“We are grateful to Governor Newsom and our legislative leaders for their continued support of the UCR School of Medicine,” said UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox. “While the pandemic highlights health disparities and strengthens our case for medical education in Riverside County, we recognize the challenge of delivering funding at this time. Our legislative delegation’s successful effort to secure these dollars supports our economic recovery now while building a stronger health science infrastructure in the Inland Empire.”
Deborah Deas, the vice chancellor for health sciences and Mark and Pam Rubin Dean of the School of Medicine, said the expanded enrollment would encourage more applicants from the Inland Empire, who will likely become practicing physicians in inland Southern California hospitals and clinics.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to invest in access to healthcare for our region and to address longstanding health disparities,” Deas said. “I am grateful to the governor as well as Senator Richard Roth, Assemblymember Jose Medina, Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes and their colleagues in the legislature for their commitment to fully fund the UCR School of Medicine. We are now on a path of growth and sustainability that will truly make a difference in our community.”
The medical school welcomed its first class of students in fall 2013. The State Budget Act of 2013 included $15 million in state funding for the School of Medicine to launch the new medical school. The $15 million was not adjusted for inflation and UCR officials have said it was insufficient for the continuing buildout of medical school operations. Last year, the medical school received $100 million from the state to construct a new facility.
“These ongoing investments in the Inland Empire will help provide more equitable access to healthcare in a post-pandemic California,” Deas said. “The School of Medicine appreciates the state’s support, which will address the structural deficit, improve infrastructure and student support services for current students as well as increase class size.”
The total funding of $40 million per year will also allow the school to hire more full-time faculty and staff and purchase additional state-of-the-art equipment for classrooms and the simulation center.
In a statement, Roth said he was pleased to secure the “final piece of funding to expand the UC Riverside School of Medicine.”
“The critical shortage of primary care physicians has long affected our region, and these healthcare disparities have only become clearer and concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “While the need for a medical school in inland Southern California was ultimately what motivated me to run for office in 2012, the fight did not begin then, nor with me. I share this victory with countless community advocates in our region who have worked for decades to make this dream a reality.”
Medina said he was thrilled the budget includes $25 million to support the growth of the UC Riverside School of Medicine.
“The Inland Empire has historically lacked access to quality healthcare and this investment is critical to developing the healthcare workforce pipeline in our region,” he said. “This is of utmost importance as we respond to a global pandemic. I especially want to thank my colleagues from the Inland Empire for their efforts to ensure this funding was secured in the budget.”
“I am proud to have worked with my colleagues in the state legislature to secure funding for the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine," Cervantes said. “This investment represents a significant step towards improving equitable access to healthcare across our region and will allow the UCR School of Medicine to continue to train a strong, diverse healthcare workforce that is well-equipped to keep up with the demands of our rapidly growing region. Recognizing our region’s growth, public health needs, and the need to address the physician shortage is vital to enhancing the quality of life for all who live in Inland Southern California.”
The UCR School of Medicine has a mission of improving the health of the people of California and, especially, inland Southern California by training a diverse workforce of physicians and developing innovative research and healthcare delivery programs. To date, the medical school has graduated four classes totaling 197 students, of whom 155 have remained in California for their residency training. Of the 67-member class of 2020 students, 60% are performing their residency training in Southern California, with 28% staying in the Inland Empire; 78% are training in primary care and other specialties such as psychiatry and general surgery that are in short supply in inland Southern California.