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New partnership will give community college students a path running through Sac State to medical school

A partnership of Sacramento State, Cal Poly Humboldt and UC Davis School of Medicine, Avenue M will help steer community college students, who may otherwise not see a path into STEM, toward medical school. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
Richard Aguirre, services coordinator of Sac State's Science Educational Equity (SEE) program smiles while wearing a green Sac State Alumni sweatshirt.
Richard Aguirre, services coordinator of Sac State's Science Educational Equity (SEE) program. (Courtesy Richard Aguirre)

Sacramento State will partner with Cal Poly Humboldt and UC Davis School of Medicine to help prepare community college students for medical careers and encourage them to practice in rural and other areas of California in dire need of physicians.

The Avenue M project, launching this fall, is designed for students who are interested in studying medicine but may think their goal is unattainable, said Richard Aguirre, services coordinator of Sac State’s Science Educational Equity (SEE) program. Sac State and Cal Poly Humboldt will identify those students in community colleges, provide them with academic support, help them transfer to STEM studies, and steer them toward medical school.  

The program’s goals align with SEE’s mission to improve access to health care in underserved areas and foster diversity and inclusion in health care, said Aguirre.

“A lot of our students from underserved areas start at community colleges, and they don’t get access to the mentoring and other resources needed to prepare for careers in health care,” Aguirre said.

Avenue M will provide those resources while boosting the number of Sac State and Cal Poly Humboldt students ultimately enrolling in medical school. Program organizers hope that, upon completing their medical training, the newly minted physicians will choose to practice in their home communities.

UC Davis Medical School will lead the project, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Foundation for California Community Colleges. The foundation’s California Medicine Effort advances diversity and health equity in the state. UC Riverside, UC San Diego, and UCSF Fresno received grants for similar projects.

Recent studies show that about 75% of people in California’s northern and Sierra regions reside in areas with a shortage of primary care providers. Many of the areas have large Latinx, Black, and Native American communities.

A report by the UC San Francisco Healthforce Center shows that California will have a shortage of 4,000 primary care physicians by 2030. In regions like the Central Valley, residents already face lengthy wait times to see a physician or must travel long distances for appointments. Those circumstances can discourage working families from seeking regular care and compromise their health, according to the center.

Statistics from 2019 show that 39% of Californian population identified as Hispanic, yet only 4% of the state’s doctors are from that ethnic group. Blacks represent 6% of the state’s population, yet only 2.5% of its physicians.

Beth Broome, senior advisor to the provost for UC Davis STEM Strategies, said Avenue M will offer “interventions and wraparound services” for community college students, ultimately increasing the pool of diverse scholars entering pre-medicine programs at Sac State and other participating institutions.

“The partnership between UC Davis and Sacramento State is an important and significant one, as we seek to eliminate barriers that prevent participation in critical STEM fields,” Broome said. “We both embrace the mission to prepare and graduate the next generation of leaders who are ready to positively impact the health and well-being of the Sacramento region.”

The UC Davis medical school and Sac State’s SEE program have a longstanding partnership, said Charlene K. Greene, director of Outreach, Recruitment, and Retention at the medical school. For more than 10 years, the two institutions have helped undergraduate juniors and seniors apply to medical school and successfully complete the Medical College Admission Test, she said.

“Many of these students don’t often see physicians who look like them. This program will help them do that.” -- Richard Aguirre, services coordinator of Sac State’s Science Educational Equity (SEE) program

Avenue M will expand that effort, offering community college students intensive advising, mentoring, community building with physicians, research opportunities, and exposure to clinical settings, among other resources, Greene said.

Beginning this fall, Sac State’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and College of Health and Human Services will reach out to community colleges in the region to identify students who have shown interest in pursuing careers in health care. The scholars will receive access to Sac State academic advisors who will help them pursue their goals of becoming medical professionals.

“One of the biggest things is to connect them with people who have achieved that goal, so that they can hear from others who have been in their shoes,” Aguirre said. Sac State alumni such as Dr. Brandon Henry, chief athletics medical officer at California Baptist University, are mentors who can inspire community college students to chase their dreams, he said.

“Many of these students don’t often see physicians who look like them,” Aguirre said. “Perhaps if they met a Hispanic or Black doctor, they would see themselves in that role and think, ‘I want to make a change in my community.’ This program will help them do that.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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