COLTON, Calif. — The ongoing pandemic is straining the health care system by creating a growing shortage of front-line workers. While burnt-out doctors leave the industry, a new generation of doctors like Dr. Ashely Molina is stepping in.  

What You Need To Know

  • The Inland Empire has fewer primary care and specialty physicians than anywhere else in California – just 42 physicians per 100,000 residents

  • Riverside County Medical Association, or RCMA, and Inland Empire Health Plan, or IEHP, have partnered to create a Population Health Fellowship Program for physicians

  • The program also offers loan forgiveness incentives to help reduce the pressures of student debt and eliminate the strain of low-paying fellowship programs

  • To kick off the program in July-August 2021, two inaugural fellows worked with two IE physicians from IEHP's network

"We had a lot of patients coming in and we didn't really have enough room or enough physicians to even see all the patients," said Molina, a Population Health Fellowship recipient.

The need for physicians has never been greater in the Inland Empire, where Molina is entering her fellowship at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. The Inland Empire has fewer primary care and specialty physicians than anywhere else in California, with 42 physicians for every 100 thousand residents. Molina said this translates to patients waiting longer for appointments dates and doctors booking two patients in single appointment slots.

"We know that the patients need to be seen and if we're not there to see them then who's going to see them?" Molina said.

The Riverside County Medical Association and the Inland Empire Health Plan are partnering to create a Population Health Fellowship Program to entice young physicians like Molina to stay in the IE.

Dolores Green leads the Riverside County Medical Association.

"Even though they've gotten their education in the Inland Empire, they could end up in Colorado or New York. Statistics have shown where a person does their residency, the likelihood of them remaining in that area is very high," said Green, CEO of the Riverside County Medical Association.

The yearlong fellowship pairs fellows with mentor physicians and offers loan forgiveness as an incentive. Young doctors can have as much as $600,000 in medical school loan debt.  

"With that debt, they have to look at how can they repay their debt while practicing medicine and raising a family, etc.," Green said.

Molina said she currently owes about $400,000 in school loans. This fellowship will shave off about $100,000 for her.

"To me it was no question. I knew I wanted to stay in the area and I knew I wanted to stay at Arrowhead and this was a way for me to continue studying and learning," Molina said.

Having completed her residency in the Inland Empire and getting to know her patient population, Molina plans to grow roots in the area and believes this is where she can make a difference.

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