Prime CEO's med school vision reaches milestone

Prem Reddy, MD, founder, chairman and CEO of Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare, founded a medical school in 2015 to address the physician shortage and serve underserved communities. Since then, the California University of Science and Medicine, based in Colton, has experienced significant growth, graduating its inaugural class in 2022 and its largest class in May.

"Medicine gives you a unique and sacred opportunity to be a part of another’s life — often in times of greatest need. As you embark on one of the most honorable professions, always remember the humanity at the core of medicine," Dr. Reddy, who also is chairman of the board of CUSM, told more than 170 physicians and biomedical graduates during their commencement ceremony in May, according to a news release. 

CUSM, a nonprofit health sciences university established through a private-public partnership with Arrowhead Regional Medical Center as its teaching hospital, San Bernardino County, the city of Colton and the Prime Healthcare Foundation, now has more than 500 medical students, with more than 90% coming from California, the release said. 

Dr. Reddy told Becker's he is proud of the graduates and what CUSM has accomplished in terms of opportunities for physicians. He discussed his vision behind founding the medical school, the qualities he believes set CUSM graduates apart and his aspirations for CUSM and its graduates.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: Could you share more about your vision behind founding California University of Science and Medicine and how it aligns with your broader goals in healthcare?

Dr. Prem Reddy: For me, founding CUSM is the result of many years of determination and dedication to give others the opportunities that I was given. My vision and lifelong dream is to give back to the community that took me in as an immigrant to this wonderful country. The value of education was instilled in me as a child growing up in India. Being the first member of my family to go to high school and college, education was life-changing for me. As Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." I am grateful that education provided me the opportunity to accomplish and give back more than I ever thought was possible. It is a great privilege to help shape the future of healthcare.

CUSM was founded with a unique mission to empower the next generation of physicians focused on health equity and community support. My journey as a physician began with a commitment to healing and caring for those in need. But as I built my practice, and then founded Prime Healthcare in 2001, I saw the lack of access to quality healthcare in underserved communities and realized that there was a unique opportunity to not only care for patients but also to improve healthcare delivery. So, I embarked on a mission to create a healthcare system that prioritized the values we physicians embrace: the values of quality, accessibility, equity and compassion. The mission of both CUSM and Prime Healthcare is to advance medicine through these fundamental values.

Q: With the largest graduating class to date, how do you feel CUSM is contributing to addressing the shortage of healthcare professionals, particularly in underserved areas like the Inland Empire?

PR: CUSM was founded to address the growing national physician shortage, which is most profound in underserved areas. About one-third of Californians live in areas where there is a shortage of primary care providers, based on 2023 data from the California Healthcare Foundation. The shortage is particularly acute in rural areas and in the growing Inland Empire, which has only about 40 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. We should strive for a benchmark of 70 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents.  

CUSM's mission is to inspire physicians to serve in underserved communities. We are proud that so many talented students come from these communities and many of our students have chosen to stay in the Inland Empire and California after graduation. CUSM now has 520 gifted and dedicated medical students, among the best and brightest, scoring among the top nationally in both academic achievement and Medical College Admission Test scores. In a highly selective process with thousands of applicants, more than 90 percent of students are from California and underserved areas. Through their studies and extensive community engagement, they have demonstrated that they are the kind of doctors we need in our communities. Statistics show that a majority of physicians establish their practices within 75 miles of their residency programs. And, more than 33% of this year's MD graduates have chosen to complete their residency within the Inland Empire, focused on a variety of specialties including internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine and psychiatry. These graduates are directly improving and transforming healthcare in their own underserved communities.

Q: What specific qualities do you believe set CUSM graduates apart and make them well-suited to serve their communities, especially in areas with healthcare disparities?

PR: CUSM graduates are among the best and brightest but extraordinarily dedicated and committed to improving the future of medicine and healthcare for underserved areas. Many of them come from underserved communities themselves and want to make a difference. CUSM is also contributing to the Inland Empire healthcare workforce of the 21st century, with the skills and knowledge necessary to improve the health of the communities and people we serve. CUSM recruits students who reflect those communities: students who grew up in the region; who are perhaps the first in their family to pursue higher education; who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds; and who themselves reflect the communities they hope to serve. Those students are immersed in an innovative educational curriculum that builds the skills they will use in their professional careers.  

With early clinical exposure, active learning, structured engagement with the communities of our region, and a focus on clinical excellence in the context of social determinants of health, CUSM provides students with a unique and focused education that allows them to engage fully with the needs of our region. 

This blend of the right students, with the right talent, knowledge, experience, working within communities with the right partners creates the sort of healthcare professionals ideally suited to meet the needs of our communities, which are their communities.

Q: As the founding chair of the board of trustees, what do you hope graduates take away from your address regarding the humanistic aspect of medicine? 

PR: Medicine gives physicians a unique and sacred opportunity to be a part of another's life — often in the times of greatest need. It is an intimate and profound relationship and no matter how much healthcare and the world changes, we physicians will always have a chance to make a difference in the lives of others while respecting their beliefs and dignity. With today's medical advancements, students have tools at their disposal that previous generations of physicians could never dream of. But despite how quickly medicine is evolving, the one constant will be the need for compassion, hope, humanity and goodness.

Q: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for CUSM and its graduates in terms of their contributions to healthcare and the communities they serve? 

PR: I am proud that CUSM is part of the crucial safety net of public health institutions in the Inland Empire of Southern California, joining San Bernardino County and Arrowhead Regional Medical Center as a major healthcare entity providing critical emergency services and quality healthcare, along with the highest levels of medical education. And there is no need to stop there. As the university expands, we plan to develop programs for nursing, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and allied health. This is the legacy that we are building, a legacy that will be left for future physician leaders at CUSM, at Arrowhead Regional, across the county and throughout California. The impact of this legacy will also reach across the nation and world.

CUSM was founded with a mission to address disparities and serve the underserved. There continues to be enormous inequity. My aspiration for our graduates is that they choose to create equity and serve the underserved in whatever way they can, and in return, I believe they may find their greatest fulfillment. 

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