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A UC Riverside medical school? Not now

Fiscal uncertainty makes this the wrong time to embark on the ambitious new project.

July 19, 2012
  • UC Riverside currently has a partial medical program, in which students start there but finish their studies at UCLA. Above: UC Riverside Medical school dean G. Richard Olds.
UC Riverside currently has a partial medical program, in which students… (Los Angeles Times )

It certainly would be good for UC Riverside if it had a full medical school. Professional schools — especially medical and law schools — add luster to a college's reputation and can attract research money and elite professors. Whether it would be good for the state, or for the University of California as a whole, is another matter. Though we don't object to the concept of increasing the number of such graduate schools, this seems like the wrong time to embark on an expensive new project that will cost the state millions of dollars a year down the road.

UC Riverside currently has a partial medical program, in which students start there but finish their studies at UCLA. Now it is trying to gain accreditation for a full medical school. A similar bid was rejected last year because the state refused to pay for it. This time, as Times staff writer Larry Gordon has reported, the university has come up with alternate financial backing for the school's first decade, some of it from Riverside County government, but also $4 million a year from nonstate resources within the University of California as well as a $30-million university line of credit.

If UC has extra money, though, it should be spending it on serious educational deficits in its existing schools, especially considering the possibility that it might have to pass a big tuition hike if voters don't approve Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure in November. The university system is on the brink of a real diminishment of its reputation, not for lack of new medical schools but for too few undergraduate courses and professors looking to move on.

In addition, UC Riverside officials made it clear that the medical school would seek $15 million a year from the state after its start-up years. We appreciate that the university is planning to run the school without the budget-crushing cost of establishing and operating its own medical center, but this might not be something the state can afford.

Although California has an adequate number of physicians right now, it will need to train more in the future to offset an expected wave of retirements by older doctors. Moreover, low-income and rural areas of the state are in perpetual need of more doctors, and these are the kinds of areas UC Riverside officials said they expect to train doctors to serve in. But a report by the state Legislative Analyst's Office suggested that it would be better at this point to expand capacity at existing medical schools than to start up new ones, and though UC officials may sincerely hope to send doctors into poor areas, in truth those areas don't lack doctors because they don't have enough medical schools. They don't have doctors because there aren't enough residents with the resources to pay those doctors.

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