San Bernardino, CA, July 23, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Jelena Begovic grew up in Southern California, watching her mother care for others as a practicing physician in Pomona. Now, the Wellesley and Boston University graduate is a member of the California University of Science and Medicine, School of Medicine (CUSM) class of 2023 and hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps in her home state.
“I am excited to return to my community and Southern California,” said Begovic, one of 98 students, to take the Hippocratic Oath during the second annual White Coat Ceremony on July 20. “It would be an honor to one day serve my community as a physician and to keep my family tradition alive.”
CUSTOM is one of the nation’s newest medical schools, founded as a public-private partnership to establish a world-class medical university that will address the critical shortage of physicians, improve health disparities and population health, and address the needs of underserved areas such as the Inland Empire of California where it is based. CUSTOM was made possible through the Prime Healthcare Foundation, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, and the County of San Bernardino and shares an affiliation with Claremont Graduate University.
CUSTOM is unique among California medical schools for its focus on training a new kind of physician leader like Jelena Begovic, committed to providing health care in underserved communities where the physician shortage continues to grow. California, Southern California in particular, is in dire need of trained doctors. The physician shortage is particularly acute in places like San Bernardino County, where there are only 34.5 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents, far below the benchmark of 60 to 80 doctors per 100,000.* CUSM is fulfilling its commitment to increase the quality of health care available to this region by bringing talented students to this area and inspiring them to give back here or to other underserved areas worldwide. The majority of the CUSM class of 2023 (70%) is from California.
The White Coat Ceremony signifies an MD candidate’s entrance into the medical profession. They are presented with their first white coat, symbolizing their role as future physicians and taking the Hippocratic Oath. Dr. Paul Lyons, CUSM President and Dean, Dr. Prem Reddy, CUSM Chair of the Board and Founder, and Dr. Kavitha Bhatia, CUSM Founding Vice-Chair of the Board, presented each candidate with their first white coat.
“CUSM students are exceptionally talented, committed, and passionate. You all came from different paths, but I believe you all share the desire to serve humanity. To heal. To ease suffering and to make the lives of others better,” said Dr. Reddy. “Today’s White Coat Ceremony marks the beginning of your lifelong dedication to medicine and reflects the value of humanism.”
Following a welcome by Dr. Reddy and a keynote address by Dr. Lyons, students recited the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, pledging to dedicate their lives to the service of humanity and to make the health of their patients their first consideration.
“The oath and the coat,” said Dr. Lyons. “Each in its own way, a symbol, and a promise. When reciting the oath and when wearing the white coat, you invoke powerful symbols shared by all who were called to medicine.”
The event, held at Bridges Hall of Music on the campus of Pomona College in Claremont, CA, was attended by 450 guests, including representatives from the offices of State Senator Mike Morrell, State Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, the San Bernardino County Medical Society, and the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health.
“It is truly inspirational to see such talented students dedicate their lives to medicine and the service of others. They want to make a difference by giving back in the most deserving areas, and we are honored to support their hopes and dreams,” said Dr. Bhatia. “CSM’s dedication to training exceptional physician leaders who are devoted to compassionate service is extraordinary.” Dr. Bhatia has had a special commitment to philanthropic work, having worked with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta and serving as Chair of foundations that are dedicated to improving the health and lives of others through educational and charitable initiatives.
The event was also attended by Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s Hospital Director William L. Gilbert and its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Varadarajan Subbiah. Arrowhead Regional Medical Center is the teaching hospital for CUSM and the future location of the university’s new campus, which is currently under construction.
The students who participated in this year’s White Coat Ceremony will complete the Doctor of Medicine program in 2023. The class is highly accomplished, coming from many of the top universities in the nation, MCAT scores among the highest (10-25%), and more than a quarter who have already earned graduate degrees. The class is also diverse, with a nearly even ratio of male to female students, a third from low-income households, and many underserved areas.
CUSTOM student Kristine Enea of San Francisco, California, practiced business law for 25 years and is a published author who discovered her passion for medicine after becoming a living kidney donor. “Making such an important contribution to someone else’s well-being was more direct and meaningful than anything I’d done before. I felt an incredible sense of belonging at the hospital and around medical providers, which caused me to reevaluate my path and ultimately led me to CUSM,” said Enea. “As a lifelong California resident now understanding the significant need in our state, I look forward to practicing medicine in my community.” Enea holds a Bachelors in Economics from Berkeley and a Juris Doctor from the University of California Hastings and most recently completed a Masters of Biomedical Science at CUSM to secure her position in CUSM’s incoming class of MD candidates.
“I have a passion for science and saw medicine as a way I can work in science but with a human focus,” said Brandon Rogers, a Riverside resident who taught middle school science before deciding to attend medical school. “I hope to study infectious diseases and would be honored to serve my community as a physician one day.”
Recent surveys show that the income level for the population in the Inland Empire region is low, where 22.5% live below the federal poverty level. Employment growth is characterized by low-wage jobs with fewer health insurance benefits (40.8% are on public health insurance, and 17.2% are uninsured). This correlates with the limited number of healthcare providers.
“CUSM is directing its education, research, and service activities towards addressing the priority health concerns and wellbeing of underserved areas, including our own communities in Southern California,” said San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe. “It is critical that more physicians are educated to provide care to the local, underserved populations in San Bernardino County, the Inland Empire, and California’s Central Valley. CUSTOM is addressing a critical need.”