July 16 2004

UCI launches nation’s first medical education program focused on Latino culture

Through ‘PRIME-LC,’ future physician-leaders will serve Latinos’ distinct health care needs

Irvine, CA — Sarah Lopez wants to improve health care for the large Latino community in her California hometown. Gabriel Rivera plans to advance medical research to help Mexican American immigrants across the country. And Gabriela Diaz seeks to break down the cultural barriers limiting health care access for America’s migrant farm workers.

As inaugural class members of UC Irvine College of Medicine’s Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC), each of these future physicians is committed to closing the health care gap for the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group. PRIME-LC, in turn, is helping the students achieve their goals by providing a unique medical training experience designed to meet the increasing demand for physicians and public health leaders who can address the distinct needs of Latinos.

Launched this month with eight students, the first-of-its-kind program combines medical-school training focused on Latino health issues with post-graduate work in environmental health, science and policy. PRIME-LC graduates will earn both a medical degree from UCI’s College of Medicine and a master’s degree from the School of Social Ecology that emphasizes Latino health care disparities, public health or health care policy.

“As Latinos become the largest population group in California and the largest minority group in the nation, meeting their medical needs takes on even greater importance in terms of overall public health,” said Dr. Alberto Manetta, senior associate dean of educational affairs in the College of Medicine and director of PRIME-LC. “This first class of PRIME-LC students will pave the way for future leaders who can address the myriad Latino health care issues in California and the nation.”

Such issues have become paramount in California, where one-third of the population is Latino. Lack of adequate insurance prevents millions of California Latinos from receiving quality health care, and the language barrier keeps many from seeking care until they are very ill.

“I grew up in an agricultural community with many migrant farm workers,” said PRIME-LC student Diaz, of Guadalupe, Calif., and a UC Santa Barbara graduate. “I always had to be a translator whenever my parents saw a doctor. I’ve experienced first-hand many of the cultural and language barriers that PRIME-LC intends to address.”

The initial PRIME-LC students, all California residents, were chosen for their academic achievement and demonstrated commitment to working with underserved populations. The students also received acceptance from some of the nation’s top medical schools, such as Stanford and UC San Francisco, but chose PRIME-LC for its unique combination of medical training, research and public health education directed toward Latino populations.

“The public health focus is an important part of PRIME-LC,” said Anna Lea Altshuler, a UC Berkeley graduate who has volunteered at the Berkeley Free Clinic. “I ultimately want to work in this area to help those who are economically or culturally underserved. If I’d have created a medical school program to achieve this goal, it would have been exactly like this one.”

This first PRIME-LC class will begin their studies July 10 with an intensive six-week session at the Universidad Internacional’s Center for Bilingual and Multicultural Studies in Cuernavaca, Mexico. There, they will take courses in medical Spanish and immerse themselves in the history, geography and culture of Latin America.

They will return to UCI in September as first-year medical students, embarking on a five-year program featuring clinical experiences and research activities in the classroom, hospital and community. It is hoped that, upon graduating, these new doctors will enter residencies and ultimately lifelong careers emphasizing their leadership abilities in serving Latino populations.

To date, The California Endowment has supported PRIME-LC with more than $660,000. The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation created in 1996 as a result of Blue Cross of California’s creation of WellPoint Health Networks, a for-profit corporation. The California Endowment’s mission is to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians.

“PRIME-LC signals an innovative new direction in medical education and a vitally important step in reducing health disparities and improving quality of care in California,” said Dr. Michael V. Drake, vice president for health affairs at the UC Office of the President. “Through PRIME-LC, the university will launch a patient-centered program that is without precedent in U.S. medical education. We expect these graduates to directly and significantly benefit future generations of patients.”

The enrollment of PRIME-LC’s eight new students marks the first growth in medical student enrollment in the UC system in nearly 30 years. Once PRIME-LC is fully established, UC plans to launch new PRIME initiatives at other medical school campuses. Based on the health needs of California’s medically underserved groups and communities, proposed areas of focus will likely include rural health and telemedicine, urban health and homelessness, and research initiatives focused on health disparities. “We are very excited about this new program,” Drake said, “and especially proud of our first class of PRIME-LC students.”

For more information, see: www.ucihs.uci.edu/PRIMELC/

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