The first pharmacy students from California Health Sciences University graduated last year. Image contributed by CHSU

published on February 27, 2018 - 3:32 PM
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To address a lack of physicians in Fresno and the rest of the Central Valley, California Health Sciences University in Clovis has taken up the mission of training, recruiting and retaining doctors and other health professionals in the area.

Founded in 2012, CHSU admitted its first class of students in 2014 at the College of Pharmacy. Now, that inaugural class is set to graduate this May and in the same month, officials plan to break ground on the next venture —the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Florence Dunn, the president of CHSU, said that the goal is to establish ten health sciences colleges to grow local doctors.

“The key is there’s still huge needs here and in some cases, the Valley pays higher than the Bay Area as a matter of supply and demand,” Dunn said. “So our goal is really not only concentrated in Fresno and Clovis — this is also all the outlying cities.”

According to the American Osteopathic Association, osteopathic doctors practice in every medical specialty like any other physician, but also are trained to teach patients to prevent illness by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, look at the whole person to reach a diagnosis without focusing on just symptoms, have special training in the nervous and musculoskeletal system, and take a hands-on approach to diagnosing, treating and preventing illness and injury.

Wendy Duncan, the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at CHSU, said that the school’s decision to open an osteopathic school ties in with the needs of the Valley — namely the shortage of primary care physicians.

“Historically, osteopathic medical students tend to focus more on primary care,” Duncan said. “So by choosing that program rather than the allopathic program, we really are helping to serve where the needs are the greatest here in the Central Valley.”

According to the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians. By 2030, the shortage is projected to be by more than 8,000 practitioners.

The university has also been working to bring in doctors by recruiting in the area, reaching out to students in high school and middle school in the hopes of getting them interested in medical professions. This extends to college partnerships as well.

“Our goal is to really help develop people to be competent and successful,” Duncan said. “And of course, that means with our goal if we recruit them here and retain them, they are much more likely to go back and serve the communities that they came from, which is really fulfilling our mission.”

These methods, Dunn stated, have been getting positive results not only for the college and the community, but also for the students. A survey was recently conducted by the school on their first graduating class. Of the 44 students that replied, more than 50 percent said they had paid internship jobs and 50 percent had job offers. Some of these students had multiple offers.

“Right now, the jobs here are filled by sometimes out-of-the-area students who just needed a job, but once a job opens back in their home town, then they’re gone,” Dunn said. “So of course, the cost of turnover to all the employers are also high and the fact that we have 60 percent of students from the Valley is strategic.”

After the College of Osteopathic Medicine, there will be further plans for occupational therapy to be taught at California Health Sciences University. Dunn expects the 90,000-square foot building—located at Temperance and Alluvial avenues—to be completed by December 2019. There are further plans for it to serve as their master campus.

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