INDIANAPOLIS — The first students to begin the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program in the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Services at IUPUI are eager, enthusiastic and altruistic.
But most importantly, they are needed.
The group of 44 students will help fill an incredible need for health care practitioners, particularly in medically underserved rural and urban areas in Indiana, said Dr. Gaylen M. Kelton, founding director of the program and a professor of Clinical Family Medicine. Physician assistants work in partnership with a physician to serve patients’ needs.
The students have just begun the program at a facility at 21st Street and Capitol Avenue that will be their educational home for the next 27 months. They will graduate in August 2015.
Kelton said the 1,000 physician assistants currently in Indiana is significantly short of the projected number needed over the next 10 years. Three other physician assistant programs are offered by universities in the state, but all of the graduates from all of the programs still will leave an unmet need, he said.
Kelton said that need stems from a low number of doctors in certain areas and from the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to bring even more patients into the health care system.
“In rural areas, there may be only one doctor for a large population,” he said. “That’s where the physician assistant can extend the reach of that physician.”
All of the physician assistant students in the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation program have a bachelor’s degree. Some also have a master’s, and one student has a Ph.D. Nearly all of the students, 38, are from Indiana; 34 are female; and their average age is 26.
One of the requirements for program admission is that applicants must have a minimum 500 hours of direct patient care experience at the time they apply. The 44 students had amassed an average of nearly 2,000 hours each of patient contact hours. Many of them have entered training from a variety of clinical backgrounds.
The students’ training addresses six broad areas:
Instructive coursework (fundamental science and medical knowledge).
Clinical skills, including communication, patient interview and physical exam techniques, critical thinking and clinical procedures.
Inter-professional collaborative education and work environments.
Clinical rotations in urban/rural community-based practice settings as well as rotations in large, university-affiliated academic medical centers.
To meet the learning needs of students and have access to clinical rotation sites, the program has established collaborative arrangements with internal and external parties including IU Health System, St. Vincent Health Systems, Indiana Area Health Education Center and the IU School of Medicine.
The physician assistant program has begun recruiting students for its next class.