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Serving the Healthcare Needs of the Underserved

Chapman University is working to bring quality healthcare to underserved communities by tapping into — and helping to grow — the burgeoning field of physician assistants.

The Orange-based university is developing a graduate studies program aimed at creating a steady stream of PAs who can help fill the void of medical care in many of the Southland’s most underserved communities.  

“In the ever-changing landscape of the delivery of healthcare, PAs are poised to take on the challenge of providing healthcare services to a wide range of patient populations, in particular those who are medically underserved,” said Dr. Michael Estrada, associate professor and founding director of the Physician Assistant Studies Program at Chapman University’s Schmid College of Science and Technology. “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 that are most affected by physician shortages and serve as the primary care giver.”

Estrada said the program, set to launch in early 2015, will partner with several healthcare providers, coalitions and institutions in the region, including several that target medically underserved areas.

Roy Guizado, vice president of the California Academy of Physician Assistants, said the Chapman program is strategically located for addressing this healthcare challenge. 

“It’s an ideal spot,” he said. “Orange County has a lot of underserved minority communities that need quality healthcare.”

Filling classrooms should not be a problem. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of physician assistants — who practice medicine on a team under the supervision of physicians and surgeons — to grow nearly 40% from 2012 to 2022 thanks in large part to increased demand for healthcare created by an aging population and a shortage of doctors.

The Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant Studies Program is part of Chapman University’s academic strategic plan to build new graduate and degree programs and to expand in healthcare related fields. And physician assistants fill a critical need.

“The PA studies curriculum has a very strong foundation in primary care,” Estrada said. “Many PA graduates enter into practice in medically underserved populations and provide much-needed healthcare services to vulnerable patient populations who do not have access to care. PAs can serve as the primary care provider and provide a comprehensive range of medical services in both the clinical and hospital setting. PAs are educated at the graduate level modeled after the medical school curriculum.”

Applicants to the Chapman program must have completed at least two years of college courses in basic science and behavioral sciences. Course work includes instruction in core sciences, including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, microbiology, clinical laboratory science, behavioral science and medical ethics. Physician assistants also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical work.

There are 173 accredited physician assistant programs in the country, and most award master’s degrees. Some 8,000 licensed physician assistants work in California.

“One of the challenges we have in California is making sure we can provide access to quality healthcare,” Guizado said. “Programs such as the one at Chapman University will help ensure we can do that.”

—David Ogul, Brand Publishing Writer


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