Taken by Wesley Ng

After months of anticipation, the UCR School of Medicine has been approved to open its doors and will begin student enrollment in the summer of 2013. The Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), the organization in charge of authorizing medical schools across the United States and Canada, granted preliminary accreditation to the school on Tuesday, Oct. 2.

UCR has been looking into the possibility of constructing a medical school for over 10 years. In 2002, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and UCR began the process of establishing a medical school, according to the Press-Enterprise. A formal proposal was submitted in 2006 and two years later, the school received the blessing of the UC Regents, which was followed by the appointment of Timothy White as chancellor.

Dr. G. Richard Olds was brought on in 2010 as the first dean of the School of Medicine in order to help shepherd it through the accreditation process. Hopes were high that the school would open, as scheduled, during the 2012-2013 academic year.

But that optimism was dashed when the LCME refused to accredit the school, due to uncertain long-term funding.

“We wish the LCME would have let us know that we didn’t have enough money… That’s what they typically do,” remarked Dean Olds in an interview with the Highlander. The rejection was a devastating blow to the fledgling school in which the Los Angeles Times reported that no American medical school in the past three decades received accreditation after being denied.

UCR’s medical school broke that precedent.

“One and a half years ago, you couldn’t find five people who thought we could have done it,” remarked Dean Olds, his jubilant face briefly turning serious. “But as the chancellor says, we refused to take a knee.” Now, UCR is home to the first new medical school on any UC campus since the last one opened in 1967 at UC Irvine.

“Finally!” exclaimed third-year bioengineering major and pre-med student Kanksha Peddi. She alluded to the benefit of the medical school for UCR’s standing in the UC system. “The eye of the media won’t just be on big name med-schools [like] UCLA,” she remarked. “More people will want to attend UCR.”

When asked if she would consider enrolling in the School of Medicine, she responded, “Definitely. I think everyone here would apply to UCR’s medical school.”

Last year, the state failed to provide consistent and substantial funds, which had been promised to the medical school and therefore prevented it from receiving accreditation. Even after the rejection, state funding was still difficult to come by. “The irony is,” Dean Olds said, “when the state didn’t give us money, and we didn’t get accredited [due to the lack of funding], the state said, ‘well the school didn’t get accredited, so they don’t need money.’”

As a result, the School of Medicine scaled down its goals and turned to the local community for funds. Of the $100 million that was pledged to support the school over a period of 10 years, only $20 million came from the UC Office of the President. Nearly $80 million came from Riverside County. “A lot of people worked very hard for decades to get to this place… This really isn’t about me; it’s about all the people who worked for decades,” Dean Olds stated, thanking the Riverside community, the staff of the Medical School, UCR students and Chancellor Timothy White for their support.

“Our focus is different, our strategy is different, our organizational structure is different,” Dean Olds emphasized. “Most current medical schools focus on disease… We need to introduce more wellness, more prevention.” For one thing, instead of having its own hospital in-house, the UCR School of Medicine is partnering with a wide array of local hospitals and clinics, helping to reduce costs while simultaneously strengthening bonds within the Inland Empire community.

In addition, the School of Medicine is intended to help alleviate the health care problems that plague the Inland Empire, while encouraging a friendly partnership within the surrounding medical community. Olds noted that the rate of primary-care physicians to patients in the Inland Empire is one to 3,000, a figure that is shockingly close to what is considered a shortage in third-world countries: a ratio of 1 to 3,500.  “We are designed to train physicians to stay in Southern California. We need them to go into the areas we actually need, not the ones that pay the most… This is where the need is.”

The School of Medicine has still only received preliminary accreditation; full accreditation can take four or more years to achieve. But now that the school is established, the hope is that the state will be more willing to contribute to its success. “It’s getting harder and harder for them to ignore us,” Dean Olds said with a smile, specifically encouraging the passage of Prop 30 and indicating that it would be easier for the school to receive state funding if it became law.

The school that was rejected only a year ago is already preparing to accept applications for the inaugural class in October. The funds pledged to the School of Medicine guarantees that the school will keep its doors open for at least a decade.  Using the experience of the medical school as a springboard, Dean Olds encouraged students to follow their dreams. “Never give up. If you believe in what you’re doing, you can do it.”

Dean Olds acknowledged that filling the need for physicians would be difficult, especially since the School of Medicine’s charter class will consist of only 50 students. But he added, “I’m a light-a-candle kind of guy… It’s a huge problem, we can’t solve it, but let’s light a candle in the darkness. You have to start.”