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UC Merced announces first med school class
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The University of California, Merced, in partnership with the UC Davis School of Medicine, announced this week the first cohort of students for the UC Merced Valley Program in Medical Education.

From about 150 applicants, Sidra Ayub of Modesto, a UC Davis graduate; Kelly Fujikawa of Fowler, a UC Berkeley graduate; Agustin Morales of Salinas, a UC Santa Cruz graduate; Christina Thabit of Bakersfield, a California State University, Long Beach graduate; and UC Merced’s own Randell Rueda, of Fresno, were chosen to comprise the first class.

“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.”

The program, announced last September, will see students spend their first two years on the UC Davis campus, conducting some educational and research projects in the Valley. The third and fourth years of the program will send students to clinical rotations in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Valley-centric program is intended to produce physicians capable of addressing local underserved populations, and able to address medical issues unique to the region.

“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,” Rueda said. “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.”

Each student in the program will receive a $10,000 scholarship, thanks to 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. The program itself is funded in large part by a gift to UC Merced, given by the United Health Foundation in 2006.

The first class will begin studying Aug. 1, but visited the UC Merced campus this week for orientation, and team-building. Already, the cohort of five can’t wait to start making a difference.

“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 the 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.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.