The San Joaquin Valley (SJV) is one of the fastest growing regions in California. It has a high prevalence of preventable diseases, suffers critical shortages of physicians and health professionals, and lags the rest of the state in many socioeconomic and environmental indicators.
From the university’s inception, the leadership and faculty of UC Merced have recognized the need to join regional efforts to improve access to and utilization of health services, to help improve health outcomes and increase the health care workforce.
These efforts began in 2008, when the University of California Regents endorsed planning for a UC Merced School of Medicine. The Washington Advisory Group (WAG) conducted a systematic analysis of the medical training options for the SJV. In light of both the early stages of the development of the UC Merced campus and the state’s financial situation, the WAG report, finalized in December 2009, recommended a three-phase approach to developing the infrastructure and path toward the future development of an independent LCME-accredited School of Medicine at UC Merced.
Phase 1 called for establishment of a pre-baccalaureate biomedical education track for SJV undergraduates from diverse backgrounds who have exceptional promise. They would pursue a bachelor’s degree that would emphasize the health needs of the people of the SJV and prepare students for advanced study in the health sciences, including the study of medicine at UC Merced or elsewhere.
Phase 2 recommended the development of a dedicated medical education program or “branch campus” that could be developed in conjunction with an established UC school of medicine and utilize a distributive model.
Phase 3 of development proposed the formation of “an independent LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education)-accredited medical school that offered an innovative approach to medical education.”
In 2009 The Valley Coalition for UC Merced Medical School Outreach adopted a formal resolution to assess SJV community perspective and in 2010 released the Vision for the Valley report. This report identified the essential need for community involvement, strengthened community voice in the process and increased community awareness and knowledge of medical education in developing and building medical education in the SJV.
Over the ensuing 10 years, UC Merced became a contributing partner to the SJV PRIME (Program in Medical Education) that is currently based at UCSF. In this role, UC Merced has leveraged its population science expertise, translational research, and professoriate capacity to provide robust training in health disparities and determinants of health unique to the San Joaquin Valley.
UC Merced continued to develop its undergraduate and graduate university training programs and attained Carnegie Classification R2 status (doctoral university – high research) in 2016, only 11 years after first accepting students. Attaining Carnegie R1 status (very high research) is one of the top institutional priorities.
In parallel, UCSF Fresno continued to strengthen and expand its graduate and post-graduate medical education infrastructure and residency and fellowship training programs. In July 2018, UCSF Fresno was approved as a branch campus of the UCSF School of Medicine by the LCME.
In June 2020, state Assembly Member Adam Gray secured $15 million in permanent annual appropriations through the AB-89 Budget Act. The law read, in part: “Of the funds appropriated in this item, $15,000,000 shall be available to support operational costs and expanded services provided by the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine Fresno Branch Campus, in partnership with the University of California, Merced.”
The Legislature, UC Office of the President, UCSF, UCSF-Fresno and UC Merced agreed that the $15 million annual appropriation will be used to develop a BS-MD-granting program that is a collaborative effort among UCSF, UCSF Fresno, and UC Merced. They further agreed that UC Merced and UCSF Fresno, as a unit, will ultimately become a fully accredited medical school.
UCSF will contribute the fully accredited medical degree; UC Merced will offer BS degrees, deliver the first 18 months of medical school education at UC Merced, and prepare students for the SVJ PRIME MD Program, while expanding clinical opportunities for undergraduate students and developing a high school pipeline program.
UCSF-Fresno will deliver the final 30 months of clinical training for SJV PRIME students, continue to offer residency and fellowship training, work with local hospital and clinics to expand local residency experiences and increase retention of trainees to practice in the SJV above the current 50% level.
In August 2020, the Charter Group for the SJV PRIME+ program was convened with the charge of developing a UCSF School of Medicine Regional Campus at UC Merced and creating the framework and infrastructure to support the establishment of a joint early acceptance BS-MD degree granting program. The design and implementation components have been structured to include faculty, staff and administration from UC Merced, UCSF, UCSF-Fresno and key stakeholders. The Charter Group comprises medical education leaders from UC Merced, UCSF and UCSF Fresno.