Relief for ‘the forsaken five percent’

San Joaquin Valley PRIME partnership targets medically underserved heartland

The San Joaquin Valley (SJV) PRIME program focuses on the unique population of its eight-county namesake, California’s heartland but also one of its most medically underserved areas.

The area is home to some of the state’s highest rates of poverty, pesticide use and air pollution. At the same time it suffers from a shortage of primary care physicians and, according to UC Merced, a higher prevalence of almost every disease and health threat. One well-being report included residents among “California’s forsaken five percent.”

Launched in 2011, SJV PRIME is a collaboration between the UC Davis School of Medicine, UC Merced and UCSF Fresno to create physician leaders trained specifically to service the valley’s unique challenges. Applicants are expected to possess strong ties and knowledge of the area and to practice or work there with its underserved communities.

Students spend their first two years in Sacramento, focused on both traditional coursework and unique curriculum such as community-based service learning and dialogues on diversity and population health. They also complete clinical preceptorships at San Joaquin Valley sites, allowing early clinical exposure to the area’s communities.

Students themselves also developed a four-week summer program in Fresno to work with physicians and community organizations and mentor Fresno State pre-health students.

“They really took the initiative to spend this extra time and help to bridge the geographic divide, further their clinical and community immersion and increase the pipeline of students from the San Joaquin Valley who apply to health care careers,” said Alicia Gonzalez-Flores, a UC Davis internal medicine physician who serves as SJV PRIME co-director.

The third year is focused on clinical rotations at UCSF Fresno and Community Regional Medical Center, which serves urban residents from the Fresno area – among the nation’s top 10 cities for concentrations of poverty – as well as patients from surrounding agricultural communities. Students can opt to remain in Fresno for final year electives.

SJV PRIME currently accepts up to eight students per year, with expansion possible in the case of additional funding.