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UC Merced, UC Davis Announce First Class of Medical Students in UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education

July 19, 2011
New program to address the pressing health concerns of the Valley

The University of California, Merced, and UC Davis School of Medicine announced today the first cohort of students who are expected to enroll this fall in the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (PRIME).

The two campuses announced in September a partnership to begin educating medical students in the Valley. A gift to UC Merced from the United Health Foundation in 2006 is helping to fund the new program.

The students are:

  • Sidra Ayub, of Modesto, graduated from UC Davis
  • Kelly Fujikawa, of Fowler, graduated from UC Berkeley
  • Agustin Morales, of Salinas, graduated from UC Santa Cruz
  • Randell Rueda, of Fresno, graduated from UC Merced
  • Christina Thabit, of Bakersfield, graduated from CSU Long Beach

In 2005, UC Merced welcomed its inaugural class of undergraduate students,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. “In 2011, we welcome our first class in the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education. I am particularly pleased that one of my first acts as chancellor is to announce these exceptional students.

“The San Joaquin Valley-PRIME represents the University of California's efforts to expand medical education and train physicians who will care for residents in underserved parts of the state, including our Valley. In addition, it is one component of UC Merced's multifaceted approach to researching and addressing complex human health issues.”

The students arrived at UC Merced yesterday to begin a weeklong orientation in the Valley, which will include team-building exercises, visiting a rural clinic and shadowing physicians.

Approximately 150 students — many from the Valley — submitted applications to the UC Davis School of Medicine during fall 2010 for admission in fall 2011 to the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME. The selection committee, consisting of faculty members and representatives from UC Merced, UC Davis School of Medicine and UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, reviewed the applications and conducted interviews in December and January.

To be considered for admission, applicants must meet the UC Davis School of Medicine admissions requirements in addition to the admissions requirements of the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME. Applicants also must possess significant knowledge of the San Joaquin Valley, including a familiarity with underserved populations, public health issues pertinent to the region and a desire to practice medicine in the San Joaquin Valley.

“We have some terrific and highly motivated students who are helping us inaugurate an important program that is vital to the health and well-being of San Joaquin Valley residents,” said Frederick J. Meyers, executive associate dean at the UC Davis School of Medicine and executive director of medical education and planning at UC Merced. “UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME represents a critical step toward ensuring that we can meet the region's health and health care needs in the coming years — especially the needs of medically underserved communities. Our new physicians-in-training are from this region, know this region, and have a strong desire to return and work here once they complete their medical education.”

Students will spend the first two years of the medical education program on the UC Davis campus in Sacramento with some educational and research projects in the Valley. During the third and fourth years, students will conduct clinical rotations in the San Joaquin Valley. UCSF Fresno is a significant partner in the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME and will play a vital role in the training of medical students in the program.

“I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to Modesto when I was 5 years old,” Ayub said. “My family and I have been living in the Valley ever since. We are fortunate for the many resources here that have helped us sustain healthy, productive lives. I feel loyalty toward the Valley and hope to be part of its growth and development for a healthier tomorrow.”

“I was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley,” Fujikawa said. “While my academic and professional pursuits led me out of the Valley temporarily, it has always been my intention to return home to give back to the community. The Valley has unique challenges and the San Joaquin Valley-PRIME offers an unparalleled opportunity to train physicians, advocates and leaders specific to this region. The decision to enroll in the program was an easy and natural one given my background and goals.”

“I chose the San Joaquin Valley-PRIME because I believe in the mission to serve underserved communities,” Morales said. “I want to serve in an area that allows me to utilize my clinical and communication skills to the limit. I want to be a great physician, community leader and voice for populations that are marginalized. I made a commitment to myself that I would do whatever it took to make a difference in communities like the San Joaquin or Salinas valleys.”

“I was born and raised in San Jose and moved to Fresno in 2001,” Rueda said. “I want to give back to the region that I have called home for more than a decade and the region that I plan to call home for the rest of my life. I would like to complete residency training in internal medicine and sub-specialize in infectious disease, one of the many health problems facing people in the Valley.”

“My grandparents on both sides of my family have resided in Kings and Tulare counties since the 1930s,” Thabit said. “Both families dedicated their lives to local communities through establishing dairy and agricultural farms. My mother attended CSU Bakersfield and is a registered nurse in Bakersfield. My father completed a surgery residency at Kern Medical Center in the 1980s. I am grateful for this program and hope to be able to give back to the community that raised me.”

Each student in the program will receive a $10,000 scholarship thanks to contributions from Children's Hospital Central California, Community Medical Centers and Bryn Forhan, a Fresno businesswoman and co-chair of the Valley Coalition for UC Merced Medical School. Continuing contributions to the San Joaquin Valley-PRIME are needed to help grow the program in the future.

The students will begin classes Aug. 1.