February 7, 2003

Medical Board of California Announces Launch of Student Loan Repayment Program

SACRAMENTO—The Medical Board of California announced the launch of a new program that encourages recently licensed physicians to practice in underserved locations in California by authorizing a plan for repayment of their medical school loans in exchange for their service in a designated medically underserved area for a minimum of three years. Applications for the program are now available online at www.medbd.ca.gov/mdloan.htm. The California Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program was created by Assembly Bill 982 (Firebaugh) and became law on January 1. The Medical Board of California, the California Medical Association, the California Primary Care Association, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California co-sponsored AB 982 and worked closely to achieve its passage.

“The mission of the Medical Board of California has always been the protection of the public. However, we see our fundamental responsibility to the public to include all reasonable efforts that we can make to improve, not only the quality of the medical care they receive, but their access to it as well. This is a modest step in that direction, and one that grows out of our commitment to the well-being of California’s healthcare consumers,” said Board President, Dr. Gary Gitnick.

The population of California’s medically uninsured now stands by some estimates at over seven million residents. In its recently developed Strategic Plan, the Board notes that various issues can limit access to critical medical services. There is not a direct statutory charge that the Board address the problem of access to care, but it recognizes its obligation to participate in the search for opportunities to expand the availability of healthcare services.

The enabling legislation and the program that it spawned recognizes the necessity of improving conditions which lead to healthcare disparities in the state, including those arising from cultural and linguistic barriers. At the same time, there is an acknowledged difficulty for many culturally or linguistically competent physicians to practice in underserved areas because of the heavy debt load that they carry from acquiring a medical education. Therefore, the loan repayment program seeks to match qualified physicians with clinics in need of their medical services and their understanding of the language and culture of populations served by that clinic.

In addition to earning a salary, physicians participating in the program will be eligible for loan repayments of up to $105,000 each, paid from specially established funds within the Medical Board. The new law requires that most participants be selected from the specialty areas of family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology. Those participants who receive an award will work in clinics located in medically underserved areas, offering healthcare to underserved and uninsured populations.

For additional information on this new program and to download an application, visit www.medbd.ca.gov/mdloan.htm.

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