September 06, 2013
Governor Jerry Brown today signed a bill sponsored by the California Medical Association (CMA) that will require the new University of California, Riverside School of Medicine to establish a system for identifying eligible medical residents and helping them apply for physician retention programs including, but not limited to, the Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program.
The loan repayment program, created in 2002 by a CMA-sponsored bill, encourages recently licensed physicians to practice in medically underserved areas of California by providing up to $105,000 in exchange for agreeing to practice in medically underserved communities for a minimum of three years.
The Inland Empire of Southern California has the lowest supply of physician per capita than any other region of the state, and has one of the most severe shortages in the country. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, Riverside County is currently the only California county of more than 1 million people to have fewer than 100 physicians per 100,000 people. And in primary care specialties the shortage is particularly acute, with Riverside and San Bernardino counties having only 36 and 44 primary care physicians per 100,000 people, far below the recommended ratio of 60 and 80. Consequently, residents of the region have relatively poor health outcomes in such measures as deaths due to coronary heart disease, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease. Many residents have to travel several hours to neighboring counties to get the care they need – a problem that will only worsen as previously uninsured individuals gain coverage next year under the state's new health benefits exchange, Covered California.
The unique mission of the UC Riverside School of Medicine is to serve the Inland Empire by training a diverse workforce of physicians and by developing innovative research and health care delivery programs. The school is unique in that the students that are selected are judged not simply on academics, but also on whether they are likely to remain in the region after graduation and improve the health of the community.
In the past seven years, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have only received seven Steve Thompson awards. Although it is likely these low numbers are the results of increasing demands in other regions, we believe it is likely that many providers who want to practice in the Inland Empire are not aware of the program and are thus not applying. This is precisely the problem that SB 21 seeks to correct.