A prescription for increasing diversity
Nicholas Orozco grew up in urban, predominantly Latino East Los Angeles, where obesity rates are high and access to health care is low.
Laura Jordan grew up on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in rural Humboldt County, where tribe members face health issues from diabetes to heart disease but the nearest hospital is 90 minutes away.
While their backgrounds vary widely, they share a common passion: wanting to practice family medicine in an underserved community such as their hometowns. Both are first-generation collegians who received a head start through University of California postbaccalaureate programs aimed at preparing disadvantaged students for medical school. And now both are UC medical students participating in PRIME programs that train physicians to meet the needs of California's underserved rural and urban populations - Orozco at UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco and Jordan at UC Davis.
UC's postbaccalaureate and PRIME programs are two contributing reasons that UC has steadily increased medical student diversity. Among first-year UC medical students, underrepresented minorities have risen to more than 24 percent of students this year, up from 14 percent in 2001 and topping rates at California's private medical schools and the national average. That's still short of matching the state's diverse population, but UC medical schools come closer than many other graduate and professional schools.
"PRIME may serve as a model for other professions that are laboring to achieve more diversity in their student bodies," said Dr. John Stobo, UC Health senior vice president. "Here's an exemplary case of what education can do in the context of legislation that prohibits affirmative action."
UC can't consider race or gender in admissions after a policy passed by regents in 1995 and California voters passed Proposition 209 in 1996, but it can have programs aimed at students from disadvantaged backgrounds. More than half of PRIME students are from groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine. The systemwide initiative, launched in 2004 at UC Irvine, has grown to 336 students and now involves eight UC campuses - the first substantial increase in UC medical school enrollment in 40 years.
"PRIME is a major innovation in medical education," said Dr. Charles Vega, director of UC Irvine's PRIME program. "I believe it's the way to spread well-being across the state in a meaningful way."
Orozco faced many challenges growing up in East Los Angeles, including his family lacking health insurance. He earned a bachelor's degree from UCLA but struggled academically, working 60 hours a week while also attending to family issues. He participated in UCSF's postbaccalaureate program, receiving support that led to enrolling in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program in PRIME.
Now a second-year student, Orozco has observed prison health care at San Quentin, received training at an urban clinic in Oakland and established, in partnership with another PRIME student and the Pacific Center, an LGBTQ+ free drop-in clinic in Berkeley. The clinic provides primary care to low-income clients and tries to connect them with relevant social services. "The PRIME program and postbaccalaureate program represent opportunities to work with different communities and create an environment for people to give back and affect change," Orozco said.
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