PRIME Program Draws Students with Passion and Promise

Jamila Harris

By Alec Rosenberg

San Francisco native Jamila Harris was inspired by her mom’s community activism, but frustrated that her friends in the Western Addition did not get the health care they needed.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and working at a women’s free clinic in San Francisco, she pursued her passion to become a doctor through UCSF Program in Medical Education (PRIME), an innovative initiative to train doctors to serve where they are most needed in the state.

“It focuses on people like me who are interested in serving the community,” Harris said. “It was a perfect fit.”

The University of California already trains roughly two-thirds of all medical students in California, but the state faces a shortage of up to 17,000 physicians by 2015. UC PRIME is helping to fill the gap in a unique way — with students who are from the state’s underserved communities or strongly connected to them. Watch a video about PRIME on YouTube

UC PRIME, which offers specialized training for an MD and master’s degree in five years, started in 2004 at UC Irvine and has expanded systemwide. At UCSF, which hosts a systemwide PRIME student conference in October, the PRIME program includes students from the UCSF School of Medicine and the Joint Medical Program at UC Berkeley.

Filled with passion and promise, students like Harris are already making a difference in their communities.

Through PRIME, Harris has toured San Quentin prison, helped organize a health career fair for Oakland elementary students and done rotations at Maxine Hall Health Center in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the very neighborhood where she grew up.

Being in PRIME has reminded her why she wants to become a psychiatrist.

“It’s a commitment to serving underserved populations,” Harris said. “I definitely will do community work.”

PRIME students must meet the program’s criteria and UC medical school admission requirements. Total PRIME enrollment has grown from about 200 students in academic year 2009-2010 to approximately 250 this fall — the first substantial increase in UC medical school enrollment in 40 years.

A sixth PRIME program focusing on the needs of the San Joaquin Valley opens in 2011 in partnership with UC Davis, UCSF Fresno and UC Merced. Meanwhile, clinics continue to apply to work with PRIME students.

Read the entire story on the UC Newsroom.

Photo by Elisabeth Fall/

Related Links:

Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved
UCSF School of Medicine


Changing the Face of Medical Education
UCSF Strategic Plan website, March 17, 2008

Medical Education Program for Urban Underserved Welcomes New Students
UCSF Today, October 24, 2007