Program expected to increase medical professionals in the Coachella Valley
By on August 5, 2014
Jay Thetford is an incoming student in the UCR School of Medicine. Photo credit: UCR School of Medicine.
By Kathy Barton
PALM DESERT, Calif. – The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation is funding an innovative scholarship program that aims to bring back a Coachella Valley high school graduate as one of the area’s trained physicians. The gift to the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine was awarded as a mission-based scholarship to incoming medical student Jay Thetford, a resident of Cathedral City, who intends to practice medicine in the Coachella Valley.
“A key strategy for keeping UCR-educated physicians in our region is helping students alleviate the cost of medical school through these mission-based scholarships,” said G. Richard Olds, UCR vice chancellor of health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are grateful for the Berger Foundation’s gift, which will help a very promising medical student from the Coachella Valley fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.”
Thetford, who is beginning medical school at UC Riverside this month, said he is interested in practicing in a primary care specialty in the Coachella Valley following medical school and residency training. “I see the Coachella Valley as an excellent place to practice medicine, not only because of my personal connection having grown up there, but also because I am driven by expanding the human right to health and improving care for vulnerable populations,” he said.
A graduate of Cathedral City High School and UC Berkeley with a major in molecular biology and a minor in global poverty and practice, Thetford said his experience in the medical school’s Future Physician Leaders program and at UC Berkeley “amplified” his commitment to serve underserved patient populations. Many areas of the Coachella Valley have severe physician shortages. For instance, the Coachella Valley Healthcare Initiative in 2010 found that Desert Hot Springs has just one physician for every 9,440 residents.
“One of my primary responsibilities as a doctor will be to advocate for the wellbeing of my community and facilitate progress toward the expansion of healthcare,” Thetford said.
The scholarship funded by the Berger Foundation will help him achieve that goal by providing the Coachella Valley native the cost of medical school tuition for four years.
“We believe this scholarship is an investment in medical care in the Coachella Valley,” said Christopher M. McGuire, vice president of programs for the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. “It’s important for the vitality of our community to create opportunities for our young people to receive professional training and then remain here providing those services.”
The medical school’s mission-based scholarship program is one example of the School’s strategy to address workforce shortages by retaining UCR-trained physicians in the region. The Berger Foundation-funded scholarship is for a student who commits to practice medicine in the Coachella Valley. Other scholarships that are part of the program provide an incentive for students to alleviate medical school debt while remaining in Inland Southern California for at least five years following medical school education and residency training. Similar scholarships have been established by First 5 Riverside and by a Riverside couple, Dave and Nina Mitchell.
Should the recipients of the mission-based scholarships practice outside of the region before the end of those five years, the scholarships become repayable loans.
The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation is a private foundation that generously supports educational and other charitable projects. Since 1988, the Berger Foundation has contributed over $400 million to charities throughout Southern California and the United States.