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COVER STORY : This Operation Is a Success : Drew Medical School Has Emphasized Primary Care to Underserved Areas for Years. Now Its Methods Are a Major Component of Health Care Reform.

August 08, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK

HUNCHED OVER A METAL GURNEY, A SCALPEL gripped in his right hand, Luis Egelsee dissected a cadaver's shoulder with surgical precision.

But surgery doesn't interest Egelsee, 24, a second-year medical student at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. It's too removed from the patient, he said. He prefers primary care because "that's what's needed in the (minority) communities."

"You have more of a connection with the patient, their situation, their problems," said Egelsee. "The issue is not just their health, it's their lives."

Many students at the private, nonprofit university share Egelsee's philosophy of health care. Other medical institutions are beginning to understand that mission. After years of touting the importance of primary care to underserved communities, Drew's emphasis on community-based medical care is at the cutting edge of health care policy.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 15, 1993 Home Edition City Times Page 4 Zones Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Mentor program--An Aug. 8 story on Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science incorrectly identified the sponsor of the Los Angeles Mentor Program, an educational program to attract youngsters to the sciences. The program is run through the university's College of Allied Health and by Drew staff.

With more calls for medical schools to shift from training specialists and increase the pool of general-care practitioners, Drew's method of encouraging young physicians to provide basic medical care is seen as a major component of health care reform. That approach helped place Drew, the only historically black medical school west of the Mississippi, in the national spotlight last month after a visit by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who chairs the White House Task Force on National Health Care Reform.

"Drew is an American resource, not just a Los Angeles or South-Central resource," said Drew's president, Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, a member of the task force and a prominent advocate of education programs to introduce inner-city children to science and medicine. "The lessons we are learning here, the role we are playing happens to coincide with the needs of much of urban and rural America."

Even as Drew is thrust to the forefront of the national health care debate, it continues to operate in relative obscurity at its small campus on 120th Street and Wilmington Avenue. At the tender age of 27--little more than infancy in medical school years--Drew is beginning to move beyond its growing pains, shaking off the image of a minor-league school among major-league institutions.

Founded to serve a predominantly African-American clientele, Drew is adjusting to a rapidly increasing Latino population. It is struggling with a budget deficit in excess of $3 million. Full accreditation for the university is at least two years away.

The one constant since its founding in 1966 has been its efforts to bring quality medical care to its community. As long as that remains its primary goal, Drew officials say, the university will thrive.

Much of the success of Drew's schools of medicine and allied health is linked to support systems that students say lend the institution the feeling of a close-knit family.

That feeling as well as the school's mission to serve traditionally underserved communities attracted David Maynard, a former gang member and high school dropout who will be entering his first year at Drew Medical School next month.

A fight with a rival gang years ago, which left a friend dead and Maynard with a fractured skull, prompted Maynard to opt for a change. As a patient, Maynard noticed there were few black doctors. Back in his Compton neighborhood, the dearth of medical facilities and doctors was sobering. Maynard vowed to help change the statistics.

After earning his General Equivalency Diploma, Maynard attended UC Santa Cruz and went on to receive a master's degree in biology at Cal State Dominguez Hills before coming to Drew.

"This is the only place that seemed to care about me, to help me make my dream a reality," said Maynard, 27.

Before applying to Drew, Maynard enrolled in the school's medical school entrance exam program, a six-week course to prepare students for the test.

With every sentence, Maynard's voice rose with an intensity and passion of one who longs to help his community.

"Everything here is me, it's me learning about stuff I wouldn't have found out elsewhere," he said. "I'm taking this back to the people so nobody has to wonder where the black doctors are and nobody has to ask, 'What's Drew?' "

Named in honor of Charles R. Drew, the black doctor and scholar who pioneered techniques in blood plasma research, the university was founded in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots as part of a recommendation by the McCone Commission and at the urging of local black doctors who wanted a medical facility and educational institution in South Los Angeles.

It has mushroomed over the past two decades, growing from a few trailers and scattered offices to a full-fledged institution with its own medical and allied health schools. By 1988, it was operating out of two main administrative buildings and had set up a number of community-based organizations and educational programs, some of which have spun off into independent organizations.

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