Kern County supervisors unanimously approved a unique proposal to give Ross University in the Caribbean the vast majority of Kern Medical Center's student rotation slots in exchange for $35 million over 10 years.
"This provides KMC and Ross the ability to enhance their program offerings," said Supervisor Ray Watson. "In the long term, this will be good for the health of Kern County. I think it's a step forward both financially and in terms of the education we can provide."
The new arrangement will give Ross, which is located on the island of Dominica, about 100 medical school rotations. Medical students typically spend their first two years focusing on academics and their last two rotating through hospitals to learn clinical expertise under close supervision.
They are different from the residents at KMC, who study a specialty there after graduating from medical school.
While California-based medical schools have affiliations with nearby hospitals that allow free student rotations, Caribbean schools often pay to allow their students to train in the United States.
It's tough for offshore schools like Ross to secure rotations in U.S. hospitals, especially in California, the home of nearly 18 percent of its students. That's why officials were willing to dole out $35 million, the highest amount the school has ever offered a hospital for rotations, officials said.
"We thought we could provide something good for U.S. students and the community," said Ross Dean Joseph Flaherty.
While Caribbean schools have a reputation for attracting students who can't get in to U.S. schools, KMC CEO Paul Hensler said Ross' test scores and students are highly competitive; there just aren't enough medical school slots nationwide.
And, since there likely won't be a medical school in the Central Valley anytime soon, a close affiliation with a top Caribbean school is a good option for funneling physicians into Kern County, Hensler said.
Of the money, $2.9 million annually will go to KMC and will likely be used for enhancing its academic departments and student opportunities, Hensler has said. Each year, $300,000 would go to supporting patient care and education through the Kern Medical Center Foundation. And $300,000 would go to scholarships for Ross students who hail from Kern County.
Debate at Tuesday's meeting mostly centered on whether the current non-Ross medical students rotating through KMC will be able to finish their studies once the deal goes into effect in September. More than a dozen students showed up at the meeting, urging supervisors to keep those scheduled rotations in tact.
Supervisors gave those current students -- most of whom came from other Caribbean medical schools -- verbal assurance they'd be taken care of. Still, a show of hands toward the end of the meeting revealed many of those students had lingering concerns about the transaction.
With a practically exclusive agreement with Ross, future students from those diverse schools will likely not follow in their KMC footsteps.
"This is a top rotation for us," said Eric Tamrazian, who is finishing his third year at St. George's, another Caribbean school. "You'd kill for this rotation. From day one, we had to work our butts off for this."
That intense competition had allowed the best students from a variety of offshore schools to come through KMC, he added.
The county hospital will still allow students from UCLA to rotate through, as well as students from other medical schools who have personal Kern County ties. But the new arrangement means the end of the road for non-Kern students at schools like St. George's, which had also tried to woo KMC with a similar 10-year deal.