University of California San Diego School of Medicine is the recipient of a three-year $1.87 million grant from the Foundation for California Community Colleges to create a Regional Hub of Healthcare Opportunity (RHHO) in San Diego and Imperial Counties as part of the new California Medicine Scholars Program.
The foundation designed the program to build new partnerships between community colleges, four-year universities and medical schools with the goal of providing more pre-medical opportunities to students and helping to diversify California’s physician workforce. In addition to UC San Diego’s grant, UC Davis School of Medicine, UC Riverside School of Medicine and UCSF Fresno received grants to create RHHOs in their communities.
“Historically, community colleges have not provided clear pathways toward becoming a physician,” said Jacob Bailey, MD, assistant director of the Program in Medical Education—Health Equity“California’s community college system is the largest public education system in the country, and this grant allows us to provide the opportunity for students from a diverse range of backgrounds to explore medicine as a future career.
“The pandemic really highlighted many of the challenges we face in healthcare, particularly in regard to the lack of diversity,” Ramon Hernandez, DrPH, director for the Division of Child and Community Health and director of community partnerships and pathway development at UC San Diego School of Medicine “The role of culture in concordant healthcare is vital — especially in our rural and urban communities — but our current physician workforce lacks people of color. This grant will help us begin addressing this issue.”
Launched in July, the California Medicine Region 10 Hub of Healthcare Opportunity welcomed 23 scholars in its pilot year and aims to enroll 50 participants annually in future years. Programming focuses on community building, skills development, mentorship, networking and providing resources to help community college scholars transfer to four-year institutions. Program activities were primarily developed by UC San Diego medical students who are also serving as mentors.
“When I was in community college, I found a program for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to pursue STEM fields. The program helped me transfer to UC San Diego which led me to attend medical school here,” said fourth-year medical student Kevin Gilbert.
“I am excited to be a student-leader for the California Medicine Program because I want to give back to other students like me. It’s been really rewarding to see the excitement in our new scholars when they complete hands-on workshops or attend networking events and hear stories from physicians and medical students who share similar experiences and backgrounds.”
The local RHHO is a collaboration with the San Diego/Imperial County Community College Association and its affiliated institutions—California State University San Marcos and San Diego State University—as well as regional healthcare institutions and residency programs.
Over the next three years, Bailey and Hernandez will gather data to document progress of the program. If the new model is successful in San Diego and at other RHHOs across the state, they hope the program will be funded long-term.
“The fact that the California Medicine Scholars Program is state-funded shows that California citizens want more diverse healthcare providers,” Bailey explained. “Through this new program, we are not only making an impact at the individual level, but the structure we are developing with our regional and statewide partners will enable us to be at the forefront of making important changes across the educational system that can have a lasting impact on health care in California.”