From the University of California, Irvine
Friday, July 9, 2004
Tom Vasich (949) 824-6455


Through PRIME-LC, future physician-leaders will serve distinct Latino health care needs

Sarah Lopez wants to improve health care for the large Latino community in her California hometown. Gabriel Rivera sees himself advancing 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 members of the inaugural class in the 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 cultural 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 the UCI College of Medicine and a masters degree from the School of Social Ecology that emphasizes Latino health care disparities, public health or health care policy. The masters degree program still needs approval from the UCI and UC Academic Senates.

"As Latinos become the largest population group in California and the largest minority group in the nation, meeting this group's medical needs takes on even greater importance in terms of the 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 health care issues have become paramount in California, where one-third of the population are 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 is intended 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 University and UC San Francisco, but chose PRIME-LC for its unique combination of medical training, research and public health education directed toward Latino populations.

"PRIME-LC's vision struck a cord with me," said Lopez, of Tustin, Calif., and a UC Irvine graduate. "It really fits into what I want to accomplish, which is to provide better health care to the Latino community. It's where I come from, and I see a real need for this program."

"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 UC Irvine 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 given PRIME-LC more than $660,000 in support. The California Endowment is a private, statewide health foundation that was 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 be clinicians, teachers and leaders within their communities. Their contributions will 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 UC 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," said Drake, "and especially proud of our first class of PRIME-LC students."

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

PRIME-LC'S inaugural class:

- Anna Lea Altshuler
Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in molecular and cell biology from UC Berkeley with minors in philosophy and Spanish

- Gabriela Diaz
Hometown: Guadalupe, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in biology and Latin-American studies from UC Santa Barbara

- Parker Duncan
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
Bachelor's degrees in political science from Duke University and biochemistry from San Francisco State University

- Marnie Lynn Granados
Hometown: San Clemente, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz

- Sarah Lopez
Hometown: Tustin, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine

- Martha Martinez
Hometown: Citrus Heights, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in biology, concentration in microbiology and molecular biology, from California State University, Sacramento

- Gabriel Rivera
Hometown: Fresno
Bachelor's degree in psychology from California State University, Fresno

- Carl Smith
Hometown: Covina, Calif.
Bachelor's degree in Latin-American studies from Brigham Young University

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to research, scholarship and community. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with approximately 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,300 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.

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