Helping those who help the medically underserved

In my last blog, I wrote about state Assembly Bill 589, which seeks to provide medical students a $105,000 scholarship in exchange for a commitment to practice in a medically underserved community.

For Victoria Williams -- a native of tiny Los Molinos, Ca.-- the idea is long overdue.

The fourth-year med student at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona dreams of practicing osteopathic family medicine in the Tehama County hometown that she left in the 7th grade -- but never really left behind.

And there’s more.

“I have long-term dreams of opening up an integrative health center that has a long-term focus on community education, where residents utilize each other to make changes in their lifestyle,” said Williams, 29.

“I think that could be exercised better in small towns, where people really know each other. Where the community is a strong aspect of their health.”

At its core, the goal of AB589, authored by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, (D-Fresno), is to enable forward thinking, duty-bound, students like Williams to return to the communities they know and love.

The bill, modeled after the popular Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment program, would grant aspiring doctors the scholarship funds in exchange for a written commitment to practice three years in an underserved area. In an era of budget cuts, it’s nevertheless moving forward as a way to counter a longstanding doctor’s shortage in rural areas.

Health reform will create armies of newly covered patients in rural and urban settings alike, and more doctors are needed to care for them.

Williams has already shown her commitment to rural medicine by currently working at the Redding Rancheria Indian Health Clinic in Redding, Ca. But she estimates there is about $300,000 in student debt, including her undergrad debt, awaiting her during three years of residency.

She’ll be earning about $58,000 a year during the residency training, so she needs help to make her dreams come true.

The bill made it through the key Senate appropriations committee on Aug. 16. I plan to keep a close eye on it, and so, I’m sure, will Williams.

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