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Meet Six Valley Medical Students in Unique Training Program



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By Brandy Ramos Nikaido

UCSF Fresno

The start of the new UCSF San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (SJV PRIME) comes at a critical time, as California is facing a projected shortfall of up to 4,100 primary care clinicians in just 10 years, according to the California Future Health Workforce Commission.

The San Joaquin Valley – the region that stretches from Stockton to Bakersfield – already has a severe shortage of physicians and is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state. In addition, with about one-third of the region’s physicians at or near retirement age, the Valley will be hit especially hard by the shortage of doctors.

Six medical students – all from the Valley – were admitted to UCSF SJV PRIME, a program specifically for future physicians who are committed to providing high-quality, culturally competent, and accessible medical care that addresses the Valley’s unique health needs.

“The aim of SJV PRIME is to take students from the Valley, train them here, offer them residency training in the Valley with the hope they will stay to practice,” said Loren Alving, MD, a neurologist and director of the SJV PRIME.

Portrait of Dr. Loren Alving
“The aim of SJV PRIME is to take students from the Valley, train them here, offer them residency training in the Valley with the hope they will stay to practice.” — Dr. Loren Alving, a neurologist and director of SJV PRIME

The program started in 2011 as a collaboration among UC MercedUCSF Fresno, the UCSF School of Medicine, and the UC Davis School of Medicine, with UC Davis serving as the medical degree-granting institution.

UCSF Fresno Approved as Branch Campus Last Year

In July 2018, UCSF Fresno was approved as a branch campus of the consistently top-ranked UCSF School of Medicine by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical degree-granting institutions in the U.S.  The designation made UCSF the degree-granting institution for SJV PRIME and paved the way for students to spend the bulk of their training at UCSF Fresno and other Valley locations.

With the branch campus approval came a flurry of activity to prepare for students admitted to the new SJV PRIME. A task force, co-chaired by Dr. Alving and Ann Poncelet, MD, also a neurologist and director of UCSF Academy of Medical Educators, was assembled.

“In just over a year, we had to develop various aspects of the four-year program to integrate with the BRIDGES curriculum (the name of the UCSF medical school curriculum),” said Dr. Alving.

Transforming 21st-Century Health Care

BRIDGES is a completely updated curriculum that was launched by UCSF in 2016 to prepare physician-leaders to transform 21st-century health care.  As UCSF medical students, SJV PRIME students spend the first 18 months at the main campus focusing on foundational and health system sciences and principles of discovery.

They also learn about health issues impacting the Valley and remain connected to the region with intermittent periods of time spent learning and conducting research locally such as with UC Merced faculty. After the initial 18 months, SJV PRIME students spend the remainder of their training – about two-and-a-half years – at UCSF Fresno.

Rotations take place at clinical sites like Community Regional Medical Center, Family HealthCare Network’s Ambulatory Care Center in Fresno, VA Central California Health Care System, University Centers of Excellence and other family medicine clinics in the Valley.

Alving credited Catherine Lucey, MD, vice dean for education at UCSF, Michael W. Peterson, MD, associate dean at UCSF Fresno, taskforce co-chair Dr. Poncelet, and everyone on the taskforce with being instrumental to the successful development of the program and consistent with the high-quality of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Meet the Students

Students in the first UCSF SJV PRIME cohort include:

Alejandro “Alex” Alejandrez was born in Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. when he was two, and grew up in Madera. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz and is a U.S. Army reservist. Alejandrez is taking time off to go to medical school and will then serve as a medical officer prior to coming back to the Valley. His interests include taking care of veterans and underserved populations.

Reyoot “Rey” Berry was born in Ceres, grew up in Modesto and graduated from Fresno State. She looks forward to gaining the tools and experiences to serve communities in the Valley that face health care barriers such as LGBTQ, mental health, homeless, and immigrants.

Marcus Cummins was born and raised in Fresno. He attended Buchanan High School and graduated from UC Davis. Marcus is excited about the opportunity to train at one of the nation’s top medical schools in his hometown and in the Valley where there is a great need for physicians.

Stephen Georgiou grew up in Los Banos and graduated from UC Berkeley. He was introduced to the field of medicine by his father who is an OB/GYN in Los Banos. Both his dad and mom instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community and helping the underserved. Originally from Mexico, his mother was a pediatrician but retired when he was born. He says SJV PRIME is a perfect fit for his long-term goals and he looks forward to caring for patients early in his medical education.

Lemuel Vince Rivera was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States in 2005.  He relocated to Fresno in 2009 and graduated from Fresno State. While at Fresno State, Lemuel worked at Community Regional Medical Center as a scribe in the emergency department. He looks forward to learning more about the health inequities that exist in the region and coming back to the Valley to work with underserved populations.

Amitoj Singh, from Fresno, is a UCSF Fresno Sunnyside High School Doctors Academy and UCLA graduate. As a Doctors Academy student, he learned about many of the health disparities that exist in the Valley. His interest in pursuing medicine was reaffirmed at UCLA. Through SJV PRIME and early in his medical education, he looks forward to helping the community he one day hopes to serve as a physician.

Photo of the UCSF Fresno building in downtown Fresno

After the initial 18 months, SJV PRIME students spend the remainder of their training – about two-and-a-half years – at UCSF Fresno. (

How You Can Support Medical Students

SJV PRIME students and peers participated recently in the time-honored “white coat ceremony” at UCSF School of Medicine. UCSF SJV PRIME Associate Director Leticia Rolon, MD, was the keynote speaker.

Next steps for development of the SJV PRIME curriculum include finalizing the extended clinical rotations for students and developing a summer research program in conjunction with UC Merced.

When asked how the community can support SJV PRIME, Dr. Alving said, “We need enthusiasm to keep students here, community partners to engage with the students, and financial support —  scholarships — to help students. Many of the students come from underserved backgrounds. Many are first-generation college students. Medical school is stressful enough without having to worry about being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.”

To learn more about supporting UCSF Fresno SJV PRIME scholarships, visit: