Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law two bills aimed at reducing the doctor shortage particularly in rural areas such as the Coachella Valley.
One, SB 21, is aimed at retaining graduating medical students of the new UC Riverside School of Medicine. The bill requests the school to use some of its recently approved $15 million annual funds to identify eligible residents and encourage them to enter physician-retention programs, including the Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program, to keep them in the region after graduation. The school opened its doors in August to its inaugural class of 50 students.
The theory guiding these programs, including their future goals of a medical residency system, focuses on doctors being much more likely to practice in the area where they complete their training.
AB 1288, the other bill that was introduced by Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, will require the Medical and Osteopathic Boards of California to prioritize licensing applications from doctors in underserved areas or serving medically underserved populations.
“We as a state should be doing all we can to build the ranks of physicians practicing in medically underserved communities…,” Pérez said in a statement after the bills were signed.
The Coachella Valley suffers from a severe doctor shortage. The recommended doctor-to-patient ratio is 1 doctor per 2,000 patients, and a federal shortage is 1 per 3,500. Places in the valley, including the east valley, have a doctor-to-patient ratio of about 1 doctor per 9,000 patients, considered to be “crisis-level” and on par with many Third World Countries.
Many believe these rural-region and statewide shortages could get worse as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, bringing thousands of newly insured into care.