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UC Davis Graduating Medical Students In 3 Years To Meet Primary Care Physician Crunch

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California doesn't have enough doctors to handle its primary health care demands, and the problem is getting worse.

UC Davis is working to tackle the state's doctor shortage through a program that's allowing students to graduate med school in three years instead of four.

There are about a dozen medical schools in the country that offer a three-year medical degree program, and UC Davis is one them. With a growing patient population and more people having access to healthcare coverage, the shortage is a serious issue. The university says their program won't solve the problem, but it's a step in the right direction.

Maria Garnica Albor is a second-year medical student in the accelerated program for primary care physicians.

Working under the supervision of doctors through Kaiser Permanente, students are exposed to patients early on in their training.

"It's revolutionary, even from the first week, they're in the clinic, doing histories, asking patient's questions and gradually they do more and more," said Dr. Mark Babo with Kaiser.

Albor says she grew up in an underserved community in Stanislaus County where she didn't have access to a primary care doctor growing up -- and so this program is a personal mission.

"Seeing this program, where I can do a primary care track in just three years really drew me in. If I can do it sooner and go back to the communities that are underserved, like the one I came from, then what more can I want?" said Albor.

According to a 2017 study by USCF, Sacramento and the greater Bay Area are the only two regions that have ratios of primary care physicians above California's required minimum ratio, which is 60 primary care doctors for every 100,000 people.

But San Joaquin County is one region that falls below the required minimum.

"Forty to fifty percent of our physicians are actually foreign trained cause we don't have enough doctors," said Dr. Babo.

Dr. Alicia Gonzalez-Flores says cutting down on school time and payments is a way to attract more students into primary care.

"We're not cutting corners. This is a very innovative program that really focuses on competency. Our students are evaluated rigorously," said Dr. Flores.

And one less year of school can be a big financial relief for students.

Albor says she's hopeful programs like this one will help make a difference.

"Who knows how much of a dent it will make, but at least we're doing something about it, and not sitting back," she said.

The program started with a grant in 2014 and graduated its first class of students in May. The program also guarantees students residency programs through UC Davis and Kaiser.

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