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Scholastica moves to address growing need for physician assistants
Photo: Dr. Kim Kruger
More than one study in recent years has highlighted the shortage of physicians the United States is facing. Looking at the nation, a 2010 study by the American Association of Medical Colleges- AAMC estimated a U.S. deficit of 90,000 physicians by 2020.
For Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures that, as of April 2014, there are 118 areas that experience a shortage in health professionals, and that the statewide need for them is currently only met by 59.90 percent.
The increased demand in primary care providers can be attributed to population growth, population aging and health insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Non-traditional career choices have emerged to fill that gap, namely the provider levels of Nurse Practioners (NP) and Physician Assistants (PA). PAs have been part of the healthcare team in the U.S. for 50 years, and with a predicted 39 percent by 2018, the field has one of the fastest health occupations growth rates in America.
PAs are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine under the direction of a physician supervisor. They obtain patient medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, counsel on preventive healthcare, and/or assist in surgery and write prescriptions. PAs typically acquire extensive healthcare training and experience before they enter graduatelevel programs that require the same prerequisite courses as medical school.
One of these programs is currently in the planning at The College of St. Scholastica, as part of its School of Health Sciences, which already includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, health informatics and information management, social work, athletic training and exercise physiology.
Dr. Kim Kruger has been hired to plan the Physician Assistant Program, which will admit its first students in 2016 and will award a two-year master’s degree, pending final approvals. Kruger, 43, is an experienced clinician and educator who spent nine years as a family physician and educator at the Duluth Family Medicine Residency Program, the past three as associate and program director. Before that, she spent four years as a family physician in rural Minnesota.
“Dr. Kruger’s professional interests have been rural healthcare quality and access,” said Beth Domholdt, vice president for academic affairs at St. Scholastica. “Her passion for both medicine and teaching in a values-based context makes her the perfect person to launch our program.”
In the classroom, PA students typically take courses in basic sciences, behavioral sciences and clinical medicine across subjects such as anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, physiology and more. Students then participate in more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.
“Clinical experiences improve practice preparedness and contextual learning,” Kruger said. “St. Scholastica already has relationships with dozens of clinical institutions for learning – this infrastructure has already been carefully cultivated, which provides opportunities for our success from the start.”
Kruger has also recently completed her studies for an MBA with an emphasis in medical management, which gives her administrative skills that complement her educational and clinical experience. As a family physician, she became interested in the capabilities of PAs when she worked with two of them in a rural community. She was impressed with how effective they were at handling routine medical care so that she, as the physician, could work “at the top of my license,” caring for demanding cases.
According to AAPA’s survey, the typical PA in Minnesota sees 51-60 patients per week, 28.1 percent of all the patients seen live in rural areas. About 35 percent of PAs specialize in primary care, working mainly (37.7 percent) in group or solo physician practices as well as hospital settings (36.5 percent).
After graduation, PAs are required to pass a national PA certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and obtain a state license. They hold the degree PA-C, meaning “physician assistant certified” in their credentials. In order to maintain the certification, PAs must complete a comprehensive recertification exam every 10 years as well as earn 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years.
The department, for which Dr. Kruger is now developing the Physician Assistant program, is planning on admitting 24 students per year, with prospective students able to begin applying in the spring of 2015. St. Scholastica will seek provisional accreditation through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
The American Association of Physician Assistants-AAPA’s 2013 annual survey states that more than 93,000 PAs currently work in the U.S. and more than 1,800 do so in the state of Minnesota. If the program receives approval, the first Duluth graduates could potentially join that workforce in 2017, earning an average salary of $100,500. That’s roughly half of the average salary of a primary care doctor, making PAs an interesting choice for healthcare organization managers.
For more information on St. Scholastica’s PA program, go to css.edu/PA.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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