UC Riverside medical school clears hurdle

After the medical school was rejected last year, UC Riverside leaders campaigned for and won about $100 million in donations and pledges.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A national accrediting agency has approved UC Riverside’s long-embattled plan to open a full medical school and to start enrolling future doctors next summer, officials announced Tuesday. It would be the sixth medical school in the University of California system and the first to open since the late 1960s.

Last year, the same panel rejected the proposal because it looked too risky after the state refused to fund the school. But UC Riverside officials have since secured enough other public and private financing for a program that they say will help ease a doctor shortage in the Inland Empire and improve public healthcare there.

“Because we had tried and failed before, it is all the sweeter to have succeeded a year later,” an elated UC Riverside medical school Dean G. Richard Olds said in a telephone interview.

The preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education allows UC Riverside to start recruiting students with the goal of enrolling 50 a year beginning next August, officials said. The agency’s action was reported to be the first time in three decades that an American medical school was approved after previously having been denied.

Badly stung by last year’s rejection, Olds and other UC Riverside leaders campaigned for and won about $100 million in donations and pledges to support a scaled-down school for 10 years. The donors included the UC system, Riverside County, the quasi-governmental Desert Healthcare District and affiliated hospitals.


However, Olds said the medical school will still need about $15 million a year in state general revenue funds if it is to expand and win full accreditation over the next six years.

Observers say that the state may find it hard to keep denying funding and to threaten the school’s permanent future once the doors are open to students. Critics, however, contend that a new medical school is the kind of unnecessary expansionism that UC and the state can no longer afford while basic education programs have suffered large funding cuts and tuition has increased rapidly.

The school would be the only one in the UC system without its own hospital, an arrangement that vastly reduces costs through partnerships with local hospitals and clinics.

“This is a momentous decision for Inland Southern California and for UC Riverside,” UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement. “This medical school is critically needed to address our region’s physician shortage and stimulate the local economy.”

Dan Hunt, the national agency’s co-secretary, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Traditionally, the accrediting committee does not reveal details of the internal debate that may surround its decisions.

UC Riverside expects that prospective students will be able to start submitting applications later this month when its medical school is added to the national online application service.

For three decades, UC Riverside has operated a joint medical school program with UCLA. Its entering classes of about 25 students spend their first two years in Riverside and finish in Westwood. That exchange will be phased out over the next two years, Olds said.

UC Riverside recently built a medical research lab building, and another structure is under renovation for medical school classrooms and practice clinics, projects that cost about $58 million in UC, state, federal and other funds.