Being in a research center might make some patients feel like guinea pigs but it can also save their lives, Langness said.

UCLA, for example, just completed a clinical trial for Herceptin, a drug that has shown promising results in treating women with a virulent type of breast cancer. As a possible alternative to chemotherapy, Herceptin works to alter the gene that makes women predisposed to contracting the illness. Approval of the drug by the Food and Drug Administration is pending.

"If you go to a university teaching hospital you can get things that are not yet in wide use," Langness said. "Before this drug, these women had a death sentence. They say the impact this has had on (them) has been enormous."

Lott said that if he had a severe medical problem, he would "run, not walk" to the nearest teaching hospital.

Langness said one perceived drawback of university teaching hospitals is size. UCLA has 5,000 employees, and between 5,000 and 10,000 patients are treated at the hospital each day. "They tend to be big, confusing, complex places and it takes some time for people to find their way," Langness said.

On the other hand, as long as a hospital makes you feel better, who cares if it has the feel of a small city? "When you go to a hospital, you go there to get taken care of," Lott said. "You don't go there to socialize."

At a glance

There are four medical schools in the Los Angeles area that have affiliated hospitals: UCLA, USC, Loma Linda University and Charles R. Drew University.

Students at UCLA and Loma Linda can practice at the hospitals directly affiliated with those schools. Drew students intern at the county's Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center, while USC medical students work at County-USC Medical Center along with the university's two separate hospitals near the campus.

Veterans' hospitals also double as teaching hospitals. Locally, those include the Veterans Administration medical centers in West L.A. and Long Beach, and the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Medical Center in Loma Linda.

In addition, there are several private hospitals that take students from around the area under their wing, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

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