PA to Offer Program Designed to Help Rural Communities, Military Veterans

Pacific University's School of Physician Assistant Studies has received a grant of $979,671 over five years from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to implement a rural healthcare program that will benefit both underserved populations and military veterans.

The grant, administered by HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, is part of the Physician Assistant Training in Primary Care Program, a five-year initiative aimed at increasing the number of primary care practitioners in the United States as well as teachers of primary care in physicians' assistant (PA) programs.

Pacific is one of just 12 institutions nationwide to have received a grant from the program designed to help military veterans train for a gainful career upon their retirement from active service. Assistant professors James Ferguson and AJ Sommers co-authored the grant with assistance from program director and professor Judy Ortiz.

In announcing the grant recipients, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "If you can save a life on the battlefield in Afghanistan, you can save a life at home. These grants will help ensure that veterans who served our country can use their military medical training and get good jobs serving patients."

Many veterans gain valuable medical skills while serving their country, and a portion of grant funds must be used to recruit veterans into a PA program.

Ortiz said the grant will allow the University to implement a rural healthcare track within the program.

"We will aggressively recruit qualified military veterans and residents from medically underserved communities such as Harney County and other areas in Eastern Oregon," she said.

The RHCT will be limited to five (5) students per year, who will be admitted through a competitive application process. These students will take additional coursework and complete most of their clinical rotations in rural locations. A graduate project, required of all College of Health Professions students, will be rural-community focused.

Some students will complete their required clinical rotations in Harney County, a 10,000 square-mile area in southeastern Oregon that is home to 7,400 widely dispersed residents.

While gaining their clinical experience, students will provide medical care to residents throughout the county under the close supervision of Burns-based medical doctor Tom Fitzpatrick and a certified physician assistant yet to be named.

"We expect the program will significantly improve access to primary care health services throughout Harney County," Ortiz said, noting that the vast region has just seven medical providers within its borders.

"Increasing the number of primary care physician assistants in Harney and other rural counties will greatly impact the health of rural Oregonians," she added.

Pacific's School of Physician Assistant Studies produces about 40 certified physician assistants annually. The school recently opened a state-of-the-art simulation lab at the University's Health Professions Campus in Hillsboro.

The lab combines robotics technology and real-life medical scenarios to give students the opportunity to simulate and practice medical evaluation, diagnosis and treatment in a safe and hands-on environment. The simulation opportunities provided at the lab help prepare students for their clinical rotations.

Pacific faculty and staff will help students of this rural track with job placement in those communities upon graduation, Ortiz said.

"The School of Physician Assistant Studies' mission is to mentor students so they can provide quality primary care for a diverse global community in underserved and rural populations," Ortiz said. "Pacific University's commitment to civic engagement knows no boundaries."

Monday, Aug. 13, 2012