Loma Linda University's School of Medicine and School of Nursing will distribute nearly $4.2 million in community service awards to students from funding received from the Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP).

Loma Linda University’s Inland Empire Medical Community Service Award and the Inland Empire Nurse Practitioner Community Service Award aim to address the current health care provider shortage seen in the Inland Empire. The region has one of the lowest ratios of primary care physicians and specialty physicians in California — 39 doctors per 100,000 people — nearly half of what experts consider adequate, according to the California Health Care Foundation. California is predicted to have a shortage of 5,000 physicians by 2025. 

Ten nurse practitioner students and 18 medical students from Loma Linda University will receive awards this academic school year.

Recipients of the awards will commit to working in San Bernardino and Riverside counties upon completing their training to provide clinical care for at least three to five years. In addition, award recipients must agree to practice in specialties where there is an identified shortage in the community. These include pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics/gynecology and psychiatry for physician awardees, and psychiatry mental health for nurse practitioner awardees.

A total of 50 students from three local universities will be awarded a combined $8 million from IHEP — Loma Linda University, University of California Riverside and California University for Science & Medicine. Loma Linda University is the only university to receive funding awards for nurse practitioners.

"We hope these scholarships will not only encourage and incentivize local students to reach their dreams of becoming doctors and nurse practitioners, but to stay and practice medicine in the Inland Empire as well," said Jarrod McNaughton, MBA, FACHE, chief executive officer for IEHP. "We'd like to be the bridge between dreams and action for students who dedicate their hearts to the field of medicine and do all we can as a health plan to provide students with a supportive network of healthcare professionals."

IEHP is one of the top 10 largest Medicaid health plans and the largest not-for-profit Medicare-Medicaid plan in the country. With a network of more than 6,400 providers and more than 2,000 employees, IEHP serves more than 1.2 million residents in Riverside and San Bernardino counties who are enrolled in Medicaid or Cal MediConnect Plan. 

Closing the physician gap in primary care and mental health

Established in 1909, Loma Linda University School of Medicine offers training in 55 accredited residency and fellowship programs, with over 50% of recent graduates choosing a primary care specialty. Students are passionate about serving the medically underserved. However, student debt and related financial factors can influence many to leave the area for higher earning potential opportunities. A significant number of Loma Linda University School of Medicine students are from Southern California, from families of modest means — ranking below the 20th percentile nationally. 

Loma Linda University School of Nursing has educated nurses for 115 years to serve the needs of humanity both regionally and internationally. Providing exceptional quality and personalized care at a lower cost, nurse practitioners are a transformational solution for an overburdened healthcare industry. Nurse Practitioners, specially trained to assess and treat mental health needs, are essential to closing the significant gap in primary care and mental health services in the Inland Empire. However, the added cost of becoming a nurse practitioner is a significant barrier, particularly with many students already managing student loans. Over half of Loma Linda University nursing students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities with many — 25% of the 2019 graduate nursing class — being the first in their family to go to college.

“By removing the financial barriers, IHEP has made it possible for more of our students to follow their dream to serve the medical needs of our vastly underserved community,” said Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH, president of Loma Linda University Health.

“IEHP has been an essential mission-aligned partner to improve the health of our Inland Southern California community, and in particular, those who are medically underserved,” Hart said. “Thank you for your unwavering support and dedication to healthcare excellence and access for the Inland Empire.”