Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

After a decade of struggle and anticipation, UCR’s School of Medicine welcomed its first class of 50 students during its white coat ceremony on Aug. 9. The event was a momentous one, with faculty and staff lauding the tireless efforts to establish the school and students of the Class of 2017 excited to take the first step on the road to their medical careers.

“It was a very meaningful moment. I think the ceremony sort of presented a symbolic embodiment of what the students were going to start doing,” said Jessica Kump, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives at the School of Medicine.

But there was another reason for the release of pent-up emotion during the ceremony. The school is expected to add anywhere from $150 million to over $250 million annually in economic output for the Riverside region (although that is just a drop in the bucket of Riverside’s annual economic output of just under $114 billion).

In addition, the mission of the school is “to expand and diversify the physician workforce for Inland Southern California.” This is a response to the Riverside area’s lackluster healthcare system, which features an infant mortality rate higher than the state as a whole and an extremely low primary care physician-to-patient ratio. The new medical school hopes to improve these numbers by leading more medical students to Riverside and encouraging them to stay.

Kump noted that there were two primary factors in determining where doctors settle and start their practices: where they are raised, and where they finish their residency — a two- to four-year training period after finishing medical school. The school hopes to build on this foundation by providing numerous programs, like FastStart and Future Physician Leaders, that provide the resources for success in medical school in order to attract potential students.

Although the School of Medicine hopes to provide the Inland Empire with a crop of doctors, it must still compete to attract students with already-established medical schools, including UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. The school is seeking to expand its graduate medical education programs to attract students interested in a variety of fields. Among those are psychiatry, general surgery and family medicine, according to Graduate Medical Education Coordinator Shardai Williams.

Kump also said that the school was developing financial incentives for students to not only come to the UCR School of Medicine, but to stay and practice medicine in the area, highlighting a program in the works that would forgive student loan debt if the student practices medicine in Riverside. Moreover, the Los Angeles area pays its medical professionals more than Riverside does, with pediatricians in LA receiving an average of $187,450 annually compared to Riverside pediatricians’ $135,430, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kump acknowledged the difference, but emphasized, “we are looking specifically for students who express an interest and passion for practicing in this community.”

“There are a lot of students going into any profession based on salary — but you often have students going into medical school for very service-oriented reasons. That is not always tied to salary,” she said.

The city of Riverside itself stands to gain from the School of Medicine, and the community has put significant funding into the school. However, it isn’t immediately clear what the city would do to encourage medical students to remain in the area. Calls placed to Mayor Rusty Bailey’s chief of staff on Thursday were not answered as of press time.

The school hopes its financial and outreach programs will impact local students, encouraging an increase in both applications and graduates remaining in the Inland Empire. Over the course of the next five to 10 years, the school’s plans for expansion include an increase in the student population from 50 to 100, with the goal of further improving the health care of the Riverside area.