Sarah Lopez
Four PRIME-LC students, including Sarah Lopez, graduate from innovative program designed to meet the needs of the Latino community. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

Five years ago, eight medical students came to UC Irvine as pioneers in an innovative education program designed to address the unique healthcare needs of California’s largest underserved population. Now the first graduates are prepared to fulfill that mission.

The Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC) was the first of its kind in the country and has sparked other community-based medical education programs in California and across the nation.

“PRIME-LC is a dynamic program focused on improving the well-being of poor and disenfranchised Latino communities in California, and the passion for this critical mission begins with our students,” says Dr. Charles Vega, PRIME-LC director. “Our first class of students embodies the very best of PRIME-LC. They are diligent, empathetic and highly motivated to become physician-leaders, and they are certain to succeed in this goal.”

Anna Altshuler, Sarah Lopez, Gabriel Rivera and Carl Smith graduated May 30 with medical and master’s degrees. They’re embarking on careers as doctors, joining residency programs in Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington and Albuquerque, N.M.

PRIME-LC stresses Spanish-language skills and knowledge of Latino culture in addition to rigorous medical training and graduate study in a related field, such as public health or business administration. Students are expected to be healthcare leaders for the Latino community.

“The sad part is that we’re all going our own separate ways,” says Lopez, who joins the emergency-medicine program at USC this month. “But we’re like family. We’ll always have each other to turn to.”

The four other PRIME-LC pioneers will graduate next year after completing their master’s work. The program will enroll its sixth class this fall.