New Initiative Addresses Physician Assistant Shortage in Underserved Areas throughout the State

August 28, 2013

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Appalachian State University have partnered to address the health care provider shortage that plagues rural and underserved areas throughout North Carolina by establishing an extension of the physician assistant program at Wake Forest School of Medicine as early as June 2014.

“Our nationally accredited physician assistant program, which uses an innovative curriculum that emphasizes self inquiry and team-based learning, has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top physician assistant programs in the country,” said John D. McConnell, M.D., chief executive officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Appalachian State University is a preeminent academic institution and to pioneer a health and wellness transformation with its College of Health Sciences is a privilege and honor.”

There are significant health professional shortages in the state’s rural areas and the need for physician assistants working in primary care is increasing as the population grows and ages. Projected shortages of primary care clinicians pose serious threats to health care access, particularly in rural areas. These underserved counties are the types of locations where the population can directly benefit from physician assistants.

Appalachian’s College of Health Sciences was established in 2010 as the university’s first new college in 40 years, and was developed in support of the UNC System’s strategic plan to address the health care needs of North Carolina and beyond. It is now the second largest college at Appalachian.

“We expect our College of Health Sciences to be the preeminent and most comprehensive center for health professions in western North Carolina, and this collaboration with Wake Forest School of Medicine is a key partnership that will significantly advance our health sciences strategic plan,” said Appalachian State University Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock.

“More importantly, this collaboration will address a critical need for primary health care providers in our region, and we are excited about this new venture.”

The application for distant campus expansion, which was submitted to the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant in April of this year proposes training approximately 32 students who would complete in-depth course work including small group learning, clinical skills and assessment activities and supervised clinical rotations. Students would potentially attend a month-long basic science leveling block in Winston-Salem, then move on to nine months of preclinical training at Appalachian State’s campus in Boone. After that, the students would start their year-long series of required and elective supervised clinical rotations in locations across the region and country.

To help address the need for physician assistants in underserved communities, the program will target students from the Appalachian region who want to train and work in these underserved areas, as well as veterans of the United States military.

“The opportunity to give back to those who served their country was a responsibility that both institutions felt strongly needed to be included when designing this program,” McConnell said. “As a result of their military training, leadership character and willingness to deploy to communities in need, well-trained medics are excellent candidates for the program.”

The initiative is partially funded by a three-year, $375,000 grant from The Duke Endowment. The Duke Endowment, in Charlotte, N.C., seeks to fulfill the legacy of James B. Duke by enriching lives and communities in the Carolinas through higher education, health care, rural churches and children’s services. Since its inception in 1924, the endowment has awarded over $3 billion in grants.

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