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Creating a Pipeline for Physician Training, Life-Saving Research



Cancer patients in the Fresno area, like Paul Wilson, area no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for world-class care. (Community Medical Centers photo)
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During the early days of the pandemic, Valley patients had access to the newest life-saving COVID-19 treatments. Thanks to Community Health System’s decades-long partnership with one of the nation’s top-rated medical schools, University of California, San Francisco, patients didn’t have to leave the Valley to receive life-saving care.

UCSF Fresno, a regional campus of the UCSF School of Medicine, is located on the Community Regional Medical Center campus in downtown Fresno. UCSF Fresno helps create a pathway for more Valley physicians, ensuring the highest quality, affordable care is available to local populations. Local patients also benefit from access to clinical research studies and treatments.

“Between March and the month of May (2020), no one had access to remdesivir, but our patients did,” said Dr. Eyad Almasri, medical director of critical care at Community Regional Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at UCSF Fresno. “People in this hospital (Community Regional) had access to a drug that was later found to help immensely.”

Dr. Almasri has been on the forefront of COVID-19 research locally. “Our success (with remdesivir) started raising our name within a lot of medical research institutions and they started reaching out to us,” he said.

Clinical Research Hub

Since its establishment, the UCSF Fresno Clinical Research Center has grown into a hub for clinical research in the San Joaquin Valley, recognized for innovative trials, including several dozen ongoing clinical trials at Community hospitals and clinics that have helped further COVID-19 treatments.

Dr. Anna Kazaryan, a Community rheumatologist and UCSF faculty member, is studying the link between low vitamin D levels and the increased risk and severity of COVID-19. During the pandemic, people were sheltering in place and not getting outside as much, leading to a vitamin D deficiency in many, she said. She found 70% to 80% of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients landing in the ICU were vitamin D deficient.

Kazaryan’s vitamin D study is one of many active research studies UCSF Fresno medical residents and faculty are conducting to benefit Valley patients, including Valley fever detection and links between pesticides and certain diseases.

Benefiting the Valley

Community’s partnership with UCSF Fresno has also helped make Fresno County one of the places in California where access to high-quality care is expanding.

UCSF Fresno trains about 300 residents and fellows annually at Community’s hospitals and clinics and estimates nearly 50% of its residents have stayed to set up medical practices in the Central Valley over the past 20 years.

Under the supervision of UCSF faculty physicians, residents train and care for Community patients in nine specialties, including emergency medicine, surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics.

UCSF Fresno fellows train in 17 sub-specialties including cardiology, pulmonary/critical care, gastroenterology, hematology/oncology, infectious disease and others. Fellows are board-certified or board-eligible physicians who may be able to practice medicine independently within their core specialty and are seeking advanced training in a sub-specialty.

About 20% of the UCSF doctors who train at Community also join Community’s medical staff.

In addition, 300 third- and fourth-year rotating medical students as well as students in the UCSF San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education do clinical rotations each year with UCSF Fresno at Community’s hospitals and clinics.

A Community Investment

During the past 10 years, Community has invested nearly $540 million to fund the operating expenses of UCSF Fresno. Community’s $46 million in annual support for the residency program includes the cost of faculty, residents’ and fellows’ salaries and associated overhead.

While the federal government pays a portion of graduate medical education (GME) costs through Medicare and Medi-Cal payments (about $14.6 million annually for Fresno), it only pays for a limited number of residency positions, falling far short of the current UCSF Fresno program costs. Community currently funds more than 200 resident and fellow positions, putting it among the top 10 hospitals in California in its financial support for physician training.

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