With hospitals and clinics scrambling to find enough primary care doctors ahead of the Affordable Care Act, they are increasingly turning to an already short supply of physician assistants. Now in its inaugural year, the graduate physician assistant program at University of the Sciences is already expected to double its size next fall as students realize this demand will translate into jobs after graduation.
“The physician assistant profession is booming, and students of all ages and healthcare backgrounds are returning to school to become physician assistants,” said Joan Ward
MS, PA-C, vice chair of The Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “The flexibility to move into different areas of medicine without additional training also adds to the appeal of this profession.
USciences, which already had an undergraduate physician assistant program
, bolstered its offering by receiving Accreditation—Provisional* for its graduate program
last September from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).Twenty students are currently enrolled in the graduate program, and the University has already received more than 700 graduate applications for next fall, when 40 students will be accepted into the program.
Students currently enrolled in the graduate program represent 11 different states, including California, Colorado, Texas, and Utah. More than half of the students are between the ages of 20-25, eight are between the ages of 26-40, and one student is over the age of 55.
“We have a great mix of students in our graduate program because many of them came to us directly out of their undergraduate studies, while another large portion are here because they are changing their careers,” said Ward. “Some of these students were in healthcare-related fields and wanted to take their careers a step further, but a few others did not even start their careers in healthcare.”
Beyond filling in the gaps that exist today in providing primary medical care, physician assistants are also needed to keep patients healthy and out of the more expensive hospital setting, said David Leonard
, DHSc, founding director of the graduate program.
To provide physician assistant students a real-life approach to learning their field, construction is currently underway for USciences’ Integrated Professional Education Complex (IPEX).
The 57,000-square-foot, three-story building will showcase an integrated education model that permits students from several disciplines, including physician assistant studies, to obtain traditional and hands-on experience. IPEX is scheduled to open this spring.
“Physician assistants are critical to the team-based approach to medical care, and it’s vital that students have the opportunity learn in an environment that will prepare them for situations they might face in the workplace,” said Dr. Leonard. “Our new building will include realistic clinical and simulation labs that will allow our students to gain that hands-on experience in a safe and controlled environment.
In recognition of National Physician Assistants Week, Oct. 6-12, USciences will host Larry Herman, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants
, on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. A reception will begin at 6 p.m., and students, staff, and faculty in all majors are invited to attend.
*Accreditation-Provisional is an accreditation status granted for a limited, defined period of time to a new program that has demonstrated its preparedness to initiate a program in accordance with the standards of ARC-PA.