Local medical program looks to close doctor shortage in Kern County

November 11, 2020 /

COPE Health Solutions and Cal State University of Bakersfield have partnered together to increase involvement in clinical settings to close the doctor shortage gap of health care professionals (HCP) in the Central Valley. This will be done as part of the Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering (NSME) $3 million grant that was given in September. 

Many would say this is a much needed grant in a place like Kern County. According to County Health Ranking, Kern County ranks 52nd out of California’s 58 counties for clinical care. The same report shows the ratio of population-to-health care primary care physicians is 2,040 patients to 1 physician. In 2015, California Health Care Foundation found that Kern County’s supply of PCPs is 36.4 per 100,000 of the population. 

These statistics alone and the pandemic have shown that there is a desperate need for healthcare professionals in Kern’s communities. Bakersfield College Professor and Program Director of Public Health Science, Charles Daramola, said the department recognizes the health disparities in Kern County. 

“[As a result,] we need to encourage, nurture, train and empower young students from minority communities to think of medicine as a career,” said Daramola. “We need to mentor them and support them financially and academically through the process of becoming a doctor.”

Esteban Campa, Program Manager of COPE Health Solutions at Bakersfield Adventist Health, said he believes it’s important to train local students and have them serve local residents in underserved communities. Campa said the grant itself reveals the need for HCP here in the Central Valley, and this is only the beginning of building a long-term positive effect on the doctor shortage. 

The grant will allow CSUB to create a public health department on campus to attract students to the major. Both partners hope to gather interest from high school seniors and college freshmen so that they don’t have to wait to get experience or travel away to another school. 

“A lot of physicians are not from here, but with this multi-step approach, students can stay here and gain valuable experience and get hired right here in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Campa 

When people leave Kern County for higher education, they often don’t come back; however, experts hope the partnership can provide the same opportunities here where needed jobs can be fulfilled. 

Campa said this program will also help decrease burnout and help students find their actual passion through their opportunities to get hours in different sites of the hospital like the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Emergency Room, Radiology, and more as COPE Health Scholars.

Health scholars would work alongside staff to provide patient care. The program is not like volunteer work. The training is extensive to help and aid and work along nurses and physicians. Those interested in exploring clinical experience will be able to join and have their COPE’s program tuition paid from the grant through an application process.

Today the program continues to enroll Health Scholars. The COPE program initially had to pause due to the pandemic but has now resumed its services to let their health scholars enter new sites and roles while taking precaution measures to keep health scholars and staff safe. Some changes include COVID-19 screening, N-95 mask fitting, healthcare administration positions, and helping in flu clinics. Eventually, they hope to move back to the clinical settings and even add more sites as the program grows in their partnership with CSUB and continue to adapt to the hospital’s and Valley’s needs in the future.