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Shaping the Future of Healthcare

A new Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant Studies program — part of Chapman University’s long-range academic strategic plan — expects to matriculate its first class in January 2015. But the program’s mission extends far beyond the current decade to address the growing role of PAs in healthcare delivery.   

“Physician assistants have been part of the healthcare team and providing service for almost 50 years,” said Dr. Michael Estrada, an associate professor and founding director of the program, part of Chapman’s Schmid College of Science and Technology. “They provide a broad range of medical services, are patient-focused and often spend more time with their patients [than physicians].”

The primary goal of the Physician Assistant Studies program is to educate future generations of medical practitioners with a comprehensive curriculum that will prepare graduates to work as collaborative members of a wide-ranging team. Students who complete the 24-month program will be conferred with a master of medical science degree leading to national certification and subsequent licensure to operate in a number of fields.

“Supervised clinical experiences in PA programs occur in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities,” Estrada said. “Rotations include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry. PAs learn side by side with physicians and other members of the healthcare team.”

To prepare, Chapman’s PA students will have access to the latest health care technology and train alongside students enrolled in the school’s Physical Therapy program, the School of Pharmacy and the Marriage and Family Therapy program, as well as the Nursing program at Brandman University, a branch of the Chapman University system.  

Estrada says that cost effectiveness is always an issue in healthcare delivery, and one that PAs can help address. “The physician shortage that our healthcare delivery system is currently experiencing, and is predicted to continue through 2020, has prompted all of us to rethink how we might deliver cost-effective healthcare while maintaining the highest level of health service to our patients and their families.”

He says the answer is a “team approach,” which involves a wide range of highly educated health professionals.

“This will improve communication among healthcare team members and decrease medical errors, which have accounted in the past for about $4 billion,” Estrada explained. “We are learning that it’s much more cost effective to make sure that all patients have minimal healthcare coverage that focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. The academic rigor, the laws and regulations governing practice parameters, coupled with the highest level of professionalism that PAs practice, in no way reduce health service standards.”

PAs are, in fact, qualified to perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from primary care to assisting in major surgery. They can prescribe medication in all states, the District of Columbia and most U.S. territories. 

“The Association of American Medical Colleges has acknowledged that PAs have the education and training to meet the healthcare needs of patients and can work in regions where there might be a physician shortages and serve as the primary caregiver,” Estrada said.

—Joe Yogerst, Brand Publishing Writer

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