UC Riverside gets approval for new medical school

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UC Riverside has received preliminary accreditation for a new medical school and is now in the process of enrolling its first class of students, officials announced Tuesday.

The road to the medical school has not been easy. UC Riverside received approval to build the school from the UC Board of Regents in July 2008 but had its first application for accreditation rejected by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in the summer of 2011 due of a lack of recurring state funding to support the school.

To make up for the state funding issue, the school raised $100 million between June 2011 and April 15 of this year before submitting its second proposal, which the accreditation committee accepted.

“This milestone enables us to open the doors of the medical school and begin expanding and diversifying our region’s physician workforce,” Dean of the UC Riverside School of Medicine G. Richard Olds said in a statement released Tuesday.

The $100 million will be spread out over a decade, with $10 million granted each year. Eighty million dollars of the money came from Riverside County, and the other $20 million came from the UC Office of the President, according to Olds.

“The fact that the community gave us so much money just goes to show how much it wants this medical school,” Olds said. “It’s strange that the county would endorse a medical school, and it just shows you how important this school is to the community.”

Olds said the program at the school will differ from other medical programs in that it will be the only community-based medical school in the state and will focus on addressing the community’s lack of primary health care physicians. The school plans to enroll its first class in fall 2013.

Daniel Hunt, the co-secretary of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, said that for UC Riverside  to become a fully accredited medical school, it will have to undergo a series of routine visits from the committee to ensure it meets a total of 131 standards.

UC Riverside currently has a joint medical program with UCLA, called the Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences, in which medical students spend their first two years at UC Riverside before finishing their program at UCLA. That program will be phased out thanks to the new medical school at the Riverside campus.

Jonathan Pena, who is currently in his second year in the joint program, said many people within the community are excited about the opening of the new program because it could help alleviate a shortage of primary care physicians in the Inland Empire.

“It’s a great step forward for the UCR community and medicine in general,” Pena said. “Adding at least 25 students a year will definitely help to meet (the shortage).”

The operating cost of the school for the 2013-14 school year will be approximately $37 million, which, according to Olds, is a significantly small amount compared to most medical schools.