Serving the underserved

small, rural town © iStockphoto
Rural-PRIME is designed to produce physician leaders who are trained in and committed to helping California's underserved, rural communities.

Posted March 24, 2010

When she was 5, Sahar Doctorvaladan left Iran for the United States after her father decided that a protracted war with neighboring Iraq had made life untenable for his family.

The transition to a new culture was not an easy one, but Doctorvaladan, whose name reflects that one of her forebears was a physician, showed diligence, graduating as valedictorian of her high school class.

Today, she’s one of 35 students in UC Davis’ Rural-PRIME program, among the few in the nation training and encouraging physicians to practice medicine in rural areas.

A shortage of almost 17,000 physicians in California by 2015 will have a profound effect on the state’s vast rural regions. Physicians are retiring faster than they can be replaced in rural areas where patients already suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions, hospitalizations and cancer deaths.

Dr. Hilty © UC Regents“When that first class gets out there and its members are seen as leaders not only in their field but in the communities they serve, other new physicians will want to join them.”
— Don Hilty

Doctorvaladan was drawn to Rural-PRIME because it offered a chance to care for underserved patient populations, a group with whom she identifies because of her outsider status as an immigrant.

“I like the social responsibility aspect of medicine. I will be exposed to rural settings where physicians work with limited resources and are self-reliant. That should help train me to be a leader.”

UC Davis’ Rural-PRIME is a combined, five-year M.D. and master’s degree program that by fall 2011 will have a full contingent of 60 students.

“Students at UC Davis will train for rural medicine in a way far different from their predecessors,” says Thomas Nesbitt, associate vice chancellor for Strategic Technologies and Alliances, who established the program at UC Davis.

Blair Campbell © UC Regents
Medical student Blair Campbell did her ob/gyn rotation at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee, Calif., which was the first Rural-PRIME site.

Sahar Doctorvaladan © UC Regents
Featured on the home page: Sahar Doctorvaladan

“Our focus combines team medical practice, advanced information and telecommunication technologies and evidence-based medicine, while still recognizing what has always made rural medicine fulfilling and fun: that broad scope of practice, great relationships with patients and the knowledge that you are making a difference.”

Program Director Don Hilty anticipates that as Rural-PRIME students complete the program and set up rural practices, they will become “magnets” for other young practitioners to practice in rural areas.

“When that first class gets out there and its members are seen as leaders not only in their field but in the communities they serve, other new physicians will want to join them,” Hilty says.

PRIME – an acronym for Programs in Medical Education – is a University of California initiative dedicated to improving medical services for underserved communities. The UC Davis program is the only one that targets the needs of rural patients and physicians. The program emphasizes team medical practice, mentoring by rural physicians, advanced information and telecommunication technologies, and evidencebased medicine.

For Doctorvaladan, it all adds up to an exciting challenge – and is further proof that her father made the right decision to bring his family to the United States.

“He wanted to be sure he could provide better opportunities for us and, for me, this is a great opportunity to serve others.”