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By Forgiving Doctors’ Student Loans, State To Improve Access To Care For Valley Residents

California Governor Facebook page
During a press conference on July 9, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about the CalHealthCares program, which is forgiving hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans for nearly 300 medical providers.

Earlier this month, the state of California announced it’ll forgive student loans for hundreds of medical providers. The move should benefit underserved patients in the San Joaquin Valley.

Michael Galvez is a pediatric hand surgeon and plastic surgeon at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera. Between a bachelor’s degree, medical school, residency and two specialized fellowships, he says he spent 18 years studying after graduating high school. “I actually tell families that I meet here that I went to thirtieth grade,” he jokes.

That also earned him nearly $250,000 of debt. Then an email arrived that said the state would essentially wipe out the remaining balance of his student loans. “I think the words out of my mouth immediately were ‘oh my gosh,’” he says. “I didn’t even finish reading the email.”

Credit Valley Children's Hospital
Michael Galvez and Molly Dorfman, both physicians at Valley Children's Hospital in Madera, were among the first 287 physicians and dentists chosen for student loan forgiveness through the CalHealthCares program.

The message notified him he had been selected as part of the CalHealthCares program, which is forgiving up to $300,000 in loans for 247 physicians and 40 dentists throughout the state. The caveat: They must stay in California for five years and ensure a third of their patients are Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Molly Dorfman, another awardee, says she’s already meeting that demand. She’s a pediatric intensivist at Valley Children’s, which says that as many as 77 percent of its patients qualify for Medi-Cal. Dorfman, who had been paying nearly $4,500 per month in student loan repayments, says she chose to move to this region after serving New Orleans residents affected by Hurricane Katrina. “I really wanted to come back to another vulnerable population and I found that this was the place,” she says.

Unlike other loan repayment programs that support exclusively primary care physicians, Dorfman says she appreciates that CalHealthCares has selected specialists like her and Galvez. “It’s nice to be recognized for what you do,” she says. “It’ll just make it that much easier to start to plan for the future instead of paying back in arrears.”

The program is funded by tobacco taxes and the 2018 state budget. This is the first of five rounds of funding.

The state Department of Health Care Services plans to announce the names of all 287 awardees in late July or early August.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.