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Has UCR BioMed Program Reached Mandated Goals?

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By Bruce Bean

Quincy Almond entered the University of California Bio-Medical Program as a freshman because he saw it as a pathway to reach his dream of becoming a doctor.

As an undergraduate, he was a Phi Beta Kappa who was one of 50 students, out of the over 200 who began the program, to finish.

He applied for one of 24 slots in UCLA’s medical program that was made available to UCR Bio-Med students. In the program’s 28 years of existence, he was hoping to be the second African American to earn a slot at UCLA, but it was not to be.

That, said Dr. Ernest C. Levister, Jr., is what caused he and other members of the Vines Medical Society to lead in the battle to change the UCR Bio-Med program.

“We saw that the program was not only bad for minority students, but it was bad for all students,” he said. “We tried to negotiate with the University, but when that didn’t work we took our concerns to the legislature.”

After five years, the California Legislature has taken unprecedented action and mandated that UCR change the structure of the Bio-Med program by January 15 or have their budget attached.

The action is unprecedented said Levister because the UC system is not governed by the California constitution, but has its own constitution and senate.

Almond, who is in the last year of medical school at the University of San Francisco said that his experiences at UCR were sometimes negative because of the competition that was fostered by the Bio-Med program.

“Because there were only 24 slots available in the UCLA portion of the program the competition was fierce to get into those slots,” he said. “I did pretty well in college and I had a good 3.8 GPA and I scored pretty well on the MCATs, then I applied with about 50 students who were left at the time.”

“I was put on the waiting list at that time, so I didn’t make it into the program, but I was told that I could apply to other medical schools.”

The UCR program, which is an accelerated three-year program, was created in the 70’s said Dr. A.J. Rogers, President of the Vines, out of the Watts Riots in conjunction with the Drew Medical Program in Los Angeles.

Yet in it’s 28 years of existence only one Black had made it to the final part of the program which is structured so that students spend seven years in school to become doctors instead of eight. The students do their undergraduate work and two years of medical at UCR and then are funneled into the UCLA program for their final two years of medical school.

Rogers said that the program was created to populate a dying UCR campus. The program had what Rogers calls a “diabolical” built-in 90% attrition rate. 250 students were entered into the program as freshmen when there were only 24 slots available for students to finish medical school. The other students would then go on to populate other programs at UCR.

“Other universities have similar programs, but they don’t take in such large numbers of students,” he said. “Brown University, for instance, has a program for 25 students but they only admit 35 into their program.”

“By changing the structure of the program students will be able to enter medical school through conventional means.”

Levister said that the programs attrition rate caused students to drop out of the sciences altogether and many suffered emotional trauma because of failure to succeed in the UCR program.

“Most of these were good kids,” he said. “The Vines Medical Society, after much negotiation, decided that we could no longer recommend the UCR program to students and we sent out a letter to that affect.”

The letter, said Levister, was sent to every high school, legislator, other medical schools and all Chancellors in the UC system. Their final action after they didn’t get the response they wanted from UCR was to take their concerns to the legislature.

Rep. Joseph Simitian, D-Palo Alto, chairman of the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on education finance said that the committee’s concerns were bi-partisan and was held by both new and old members of the Assembly.

“When you accept 200 people into a program where there are only 24 slots you are setting a lot of people up for failure,” he said. “I was particularly concerned about the folks who were left behind.”

“You don’t create an opportunity on one hand and then set up people for failure.”
Earlier this year the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on education finance and the assembly itself voted unanimously to attach the UCR Bio-Med Program’s budget unless sweeping changes were made to the program structure by January 15.

Simitian said that the budget subcommittee used what is called budget language to tie the allocation of funds to changes in UCR’s program and that the language was adopted by the entire Assembly.

Changes that will be made include restructuring the program as a convention medical school program that will be available to all students including community college transfers.

UCR will also hire more diverse faculty and counselors to aide in helping minority student’s reach their goals of becoming doctors and allowing students to apply to the medical school of their choice after they have completed program requirements.

Other changes include matching requirements of the UCLA medical school and eliminating the requirement that students have to finish the undergraduate portion of the program in three years.

Students will also be able to apply a second time if their application to enter UCLA is denied.

Dr. Craig Byus, Associate Dean of Biomedical Sciences at UCR says the changes are welcomed by all and was something the university had been looking into doing for some time.

“In my own mind and in the minds of most of us here, it really doesn’t matter why we are changing the program as much as that we are changing it,” he said. “We are really pleased about the changes.”

“The Vine Society had a big influence in getting this done in a fast time frame, but we had been looking at making changes ourselves for quite some time. We are a public institution, the public pays our bills, and we would be stupid not to listen to them.”

Byus says that one of the keys to all changes is the change of the program mission statement to include language that about training doctors for underserved and rural areas in California.

“The new mission statement is ‘To prepare graduates for distinguished medical careers in service for the people of California with emphasis on the underserved, inland and rural populations’,” he said. “We’ve restructured the program, but we are now obligated to graduate doctors for these underserved communities.”

“We understand that statistically doctors who come from underserved communities will go back to those communities and disadvantaged students will also go back to underserved communities. However, the biggest predictor is where you serve your residency and UCLA will help us with all of this.”

Byus said that the previous three year accelerated program was good for highly motivated students who came from good high schools and a high level of parental support, which is not the case with many minority students.

Shareece Davis who entered the program as a freshman says that the program limited her ability to prosper because she was more active in community services and the UCR program was designed for students whose strengths were scholastic based.

“I was more community service based,” she said. “I co-founded African Americans United in Science at UCR.”

Davis is in her second year at UCLA and hopes to graduate in 2005. Davis entered the UCR program when she was 17. Davis decided to concentrate on other activities along with her schoolwork and found the former UCR program was not as supportive as it could have been.

“There wasn’t a lot of support for the students,” she said. “We were supposed to meet with our advisor once a quarter but that was it.”

Byus said that new structure of the program would allow students such as Davis time to experience much more of undergraduate life, which will, hopefully make them better doctors.

“It use to be that med schools wanted young people that they could mold into doctors,” he said. “What they want now is people with more life experiences and more maturity, academically and emotionally.”

“Our program has been enormously successful. However, as good as they have been, they would have benefited by another year or two as undergraduates.”

As for Almond, he is applying for internal medicine residency programs and he believes that the UCR program made him stronger and prepared him for the rigors of medical school.

“Overall, I don’t think it discouraged me that much,” he said. “I think it made me stronger for having to go through that challenge. I think it was a good experience.”

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