Countdown to RVU’s Physician Assistant Program

With its new accreditation-provisional status granted by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), the PA Program is now charging forward, kicking up dust in its wake. The inaugural Class of 2020 will begin in September with a class of over 30 students; upon completion of this 27-month-long program, the students will graduate with a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree.

An Innovative Curriculum

The PA student will be taught using a truly innovative curriculum, utilizing the competency-based medical education (CBME) model. CBME is an outcome-based approach to the design, implementation, assessment, and evaluation of the program, with its learners using an organizing framework of competencies. This model takes learning from knowledge acquisition to application, allows for multiple measures of performance, and assesses performance against a fixed set of predetermined criteria.

The doctor explains to the patient using the human body model drawingThere are three major components of CBME: competencies, milestones, and entrustable professional activities (EPAs), which are tasks or responsibilities performed while unsupervised once competence is attained. No other PA program in the United States utilizes these components as part of its student assessment and program evaluation. With this curriculum, the students’ progress will be marked by milestones and other practical means. They will have to demonstrate functional knowledge and pass a series of assessments in order to progress to the next lesson. With these academic provisions, the program will turn out more qualified graduates.

“We are fortunate to have experienced faculty, whose vision for the curriculum is not only highly innovative, but has the potential to lead other programs in the move toward competency-based medical education,” said Cathy C. Ruff, MS, PA-C, Program Director. “The program is another example of how RVU is achieving new heights in medical education.” In August, Ms. Ruff will be presenting on this curriculum design at the 2nd World Summit on Competency-Based Medical Education in Switzerland.

The Guidance of a Community

The creation and design of the PA Program began with—and has continued to be—a collective effort. Long before the first PA Program employee was hired, there was a steering committee, which guided many of the initial plans and decisions. As RVU began to hire the program’s employees, the steering committee evolved into an advisory council. The council—comprised of physicians, PAs, a legislator, and members of Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and Colorado Rural Health—advise on issues related to community medicine and ways to better meet the medical needs of the community. They also offer information on the “pulse” of medicine and how the RVU PA Program can ensure students are poised to meet the evolving needs of the community.

Creating Interprofessional Teamwork

One of the benefits of starting a PA program at an existing medical school is the use of the latter’s many resources. One of RVU’s resources is its state-of-the-art Standardized Patient program, in which PA students will interact in a monitored clinical setting with standardized patients (actors who portray realistic scenarios or symptoms test and improve the skills of students).

Along with its own dedicated faculty, the PA Program will also benefit from the experience and collaboration of RVU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (RVUCOM) faculty. Through the program duration, students will have guest speakers from the Departments of Biomedicalpeople doing chemical experiment in modern lab Sciences, Primary Care Medicine, and Research, as well as the Rural and Wilderness Medicine Track (in addition to adjunct faculty members). They will also work closely with the Department of Medical Humanities to implement the Interprofessional Education curriculum, including the Humanities for Evidence-Based Medicine course that RVUCOM students take.

Additionally, PAs will be rotating with students of RVUCOM throughout the Mountain West region. This creates an opportunity for the students to work on interprofessional teams, while decreasing competition for clinical placements. “This is a very forward-thinking approach to dealing with the challenges associated with identifying and placing students in safe, effective training environments,” said Ms. Ruff. The PA Program will be teaming up with the Department of Clinical Affairs, using the same clinical tracking software to schedule rotations. Preceptors will work with a single point of contact for the different programs.

“The Physician Assistant program will greatly augment our team-based medical education experience which is essential for preparing our graduates to practice in today’s health care delivery system,” said Clinton E. Adams, DO, FACHE, President and CEO.

Changing the Future of Health Care

Physician assistants are expected to change the state of health care in America. Presently, many communities are medically underserved throughout the country and this is expected to worsen as more and more physicians of the Baby Boomer generation retire. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates a shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians by 2020.

Enter the physician assistant. They are academically and clinically prepared to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. Their shared team relationship is fundamental to the profession and enhances the delivery of high-quality health care. They also make clinical decisions and provide a broad range of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and health maintenance services. The lower cost of training and education, paired with a shorter time frame to completion, means a quicker route to providing health care to the necessary areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for PAs is expected to grow at a rate of 37% between now and 2026, with nearly 40,000 new jobs being created.

Moreover, due to recent legislative changes in the supervisory requirements for new PA graduates, onsite physician supervision hours decreased to 160 from 1000. This provides a positive impact on rural and medically underserved communities, which had not been able to satisfy the 1000-hour requirement.

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