Agreement to address shortage of providers

LAWRENCEVILLE - An agreement being signed today by Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Brenau University will address the chronic shortage of primary care health providers in north Georgia.

The schools are creating a five-year accelerated bachelor and master's degree program in physician assistant studies, according to a news release.

The program will prepare health care professionals for many of the patient-related tasks doctors perform, such as conducting physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting tests, counseling patients on preventive health care, assisting in surgery and writing prescriptions.

According to U.S. Department of Labor projections, there needs to be a 49 percent increase in physician assistant ranks in the next 10 years, the news release states. With an anticipated 94,000 positions available by 2012, the physician assistant represents the third-fastest-growing profession in the nation.

"This agreement underscores Brenau University's commitment to meet its responsibilities in addressing the growing shortage of health care professionals in our community and throughout the nation," University President Ed Schrader said. "Although the physician assistant program is relatively new, thousands of dedicated people in that profession have become essential health care providers for hundreds of thousands of families."

The physician assistant profession traces its roots to Duke University in the 1960s, when many highly trained military medics returned from the Vietnam War with vital skills that could be used to help the civilian population, the news release states.

More than 68,000 licensed professionals currently work in clinical settings under the supervision of physicians, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

"This agreement is the perfect response to our mutual goal of training health professionals to serve in the South," said Matthew Schure, the president of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "This innovative partnership takes advantage of the strengths of both institutions to assure undergraduates a path to a career in the health professions and to prepare highly qualified physician assistants for Georgia."

The first students will begin the program in August. Students will spend three years at Brenau University in Gainesville and take two courses at PCOM's Georgia campus in Suwanee before going to Pennsylvania for 14 months of professional studies on PCOM's main campus. The students will then return to Gainesville for a year of focused clinical studies under the supervision of PCOM faculty and doctors affiliated with The Longstreet Clinic and Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Following completion of the program, graduates will be eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.