Boston University’s new physician assistant master’s program, set to begin in April 2014, has already received over 1,000 applications for just 28 spots, according to BU School of Medicine officials.
Gina DiGravio, BU Medical Campus’ media relations manager, said the seven semester program will consist of 12 months of traditional lectures and seminars, as well as 16 additional months of clinical education at area Boston Medical Center and BMC’s Community Health Centers.
“Because of the Boston University School of Medicine affiliation with Boston Medical Center and the BA and Community Health Centers, … it [the program] certainly provides a diverse population where these students will be trained in,” DiGravio said.
Patrick Dunne, senior communications manager at American Academy of Physician Assistants, said in an email that there are over 92,000 PAs currently working in the U.S. and 173 PA programs scattered across the country at various schools.
“A physician assistant … is a medical professional who works as part of a team with a doctor,” Dunne said. “A PA is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program who is nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician.”
One unique aspect of BU’s new PA program, DiGravio said, is how it was created to provide an “inter-professional” learning experience for enrolled students.
“We thought it was beneficial for the student because this will be happening here at the medical campus,” she said. “You have these students, you have School of Medicine students, you have students from the School of Public Health and from the school of Dental Medicine all here on one campus.”
Additionally, the program will allow students to perform their clerkships, where they are exposed to real-life medical training as part of their 16 months of clinical education, abroad. DiGravio said students will have the option of working in Africa, Northern Europe, Canada or Central America.
She also said on top of having the option to work in a foreign country, students will be exposed to patients from all backgrounds while still in the U.S.
“Our patients tend to be poorer than your average patient,” DiGravio said. “Also, sometimes English is not their first language. They are not your traditional patient population, so again, … these students will be able to become better practiced in a culturally competent way because they will be exposed to a diverse population of patients.”
According to a 2013 AAPA press release, the chair of the Department of Medicine at Duke University established a program in 1965 to train ex-military members to perform medical tasks under the supervision of official physicians to balance out North Carolina residents who lacked funds to access proper medical care.
The occupation is expected to increase 30 percent this decade, growing at a much faster rate than the average profession, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website. In 2010, the average salary for a PA was $86,410 per year, at over $40 per hour.
Pam McColl, a PA who is also president of the Mass. Association of Physician Assistants, said she has been a PA for 28 years, and would still choose to be a PA if she had to do it all over again.
“I like that I’m able to go to work and I make a difference,” she said. “I take care of patients … It also allows you the time to have outside interests, have family, have time for family. It’s not a job that is all-consuming, and I think that it leaves you the opportunity to offer help and to enjoy a lot of the fun things in life as well.”
McColl, who is a PA in surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and graduated from BU with a degree in biology in 1982, said the growing popularity of people pursuing jobs as PAs could be attributed to a myriad of factors, including the economy and healthcare.
“It’s got a lot of opportunities to it — the salary is pretty nice, and I think a lot of people want to take advantage of that,” McColl said. “I also think that in the current healthcare climate, which is ever-changing, we’re looking to have more healthcare providers. I think PAs are going to play a huge role in being able to help our country meet those needs.”