Marnie Granados
As part of the inaugural PRIME-LC class of 2004, Marnie Granados will become a doctor this spring. Sara France

An innovative UC Irvine School of Medicine program designed to lessen Latino healthcare disparities in California will produce its first graduates this year. The students will move into jobs as resident physicians and – it is hoped – herald a revolution in healthcare for a third of the state’s residents.

PRIME-LC (Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community) was developed in 2004 as the first medical education program in the country addressing the unique healthcare needs of Latinos. Since then, four other UC medical schools have launched PRIME programs targeting different underserved communities, and medical education itself is being transformed.

“In PRIME, we have people who have a passion to serve,” says Chancellor Michael Drake, M.D., who launched PRIME when he was UC vice president of health affairs. “To find them, we created PRIME by looking first at the patients who needed to be served, and then identifying the most qualified students.”

“We realized we needed to do something radically different,” says Dr. Alberto Manetta, associate dean for diversity who worked with Drake to develop PRIME-LC when he oversaw UCI’s medical education programs from 1993 to 2007. “Medical schools have to be active participants in solving the problems of society, and we are now doing that.”

Two key processes – the selection of students and the teaching of students – had to change.

Requirements: To be selected for PRIME-LC, applicants need more than impressive transcripts and high test scores; they must have the passion and aptitude to make a difference in underserved communities. Admission is not based on ethnicity, but students need to be fluent in Spanish, understand Latino culture and possess a demonstrated ability to lead change.

Curricula: PRIME programs differ from standard medical education by focusing on specific concerns – Latino healthcare (UCI), health equity (UC San Diego), primary care for rural communities (UC Davis) and healthcare for urban populations (UC San Francisco) and other underserved demographics (UCLA).

Coursework covers distinctive medical, social, cultural and political concerns. PRIME-LC students, for example, take medical Spanish and Latino culture classes at a university in Cuernavaca, Mexico, before starting five years of classroom, clinical and outreach training focused on Latino health issues.

PRIME students also hone their leadership skills and are required to earn a second graduate degree – usually in public health, public policy or business. Many become public health advocates. PRIME-LC students, for instance, initiated a community healthcare provider program in Chiapas, Mexico.

PRIME-LC student Martha Martinez personifies this call for leadership. Before coming to UCI, she participated in a project to improve water quality in rural Mexican towns. Her classmate Marnie Granados worked one summer in a Houston shelter for homeless women and children from Mexico and Central American countries.

On Feb. 27, students, clinical faculty and administrators from the five PRIME programs will meet for the first time at UCI for a two-day symposium on how best to meet the needs of the underserved and influence how tomorrow’s doctors are trained.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” says PRIME-LC student Sarah Lopez, who will get a medical degree and an M.B.A. this spring. “With the tools we’ve developed and the connections we’re making among ourselves and with other PRIME students, we’ll be a collective force in the community.”