Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Demand Outstrips Oklahoma's Rising Physician Assistant Supply

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Demand Outstrips Oklahoma's Rising Physician Assistant Supply

Article excerpt

December brought a triumphant finish for the first graduating class under the University of Oklahoma's Tulsa physician assistant program.

Not only did all of the 20 original students complete the 30- month training marathon, but all received job offers before graduating.

"About 80 percent have taken one so far," said Meredith Davison, associate dean for academic services at the OU-Tulsa Schusterman Center and interim dean of its School of Community Medicine PA program. She said the other 20 percent of students either remain in contract negotiation or are completing final accreditation testing before starting work.

That successful graduate-level class boosted Oklahoma's physician assistant output 37 percent. But even with those students and the 54 graduated this month from the 40-year-old OU Health Sciences Center program in Oklahoma City, the Sooner State remains far behind growing industry demand.

"We never seem to make much progress on paring down this job list," said Daniel L. McNeill, a professor at the OU College of Medicine and director of its Department of Family Medicine Physician Associate Program.

"We maintain a job list for the state and the job list currently has hundreds of job opportunities on it," he said. "Between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, we're only graduating 70 to 75 a year. But with each new graduating class, more jobs are added during the year."

With their ability to diagnose and treat routine patient needs, health care providers use physician assistants to free up doctor time for more their serious medical problems. This flexibility can play a critical role in boosting productivity and efficiency while keeping costs down.

"At their inception, the focus was on rural, underserved areas," Davison said of the nation's physician assistant programs, which originated at Duke University in 1965. "More recently PAs have shown themselves to be in high demand in urban areas also because they allow a physician to care for more patients."

For in-state students, she said tuition costs for the entire graduate-level program runs just more than $30,000 - about a fourth of the medium debt of medical students, according to the website - with PA graduates earning first-year salaries of $80,000 or more.

"PAs get 30 months of training that's very similar to a physician's training," said Davison, noting doctors face a longer four-year medical school cycle. "However, whereas when people who graduate with an MD or a DO degree go on into a three-year residency, the physician assistants go directly into jobs. They do not take a residency."

Since a medical college may complete almost three PA class cycles in the time of one medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy training cycle, at a far lower cost to students and the school, industry professionals expect physician assistants to play an increasingly important role in resolving America's health care dilemmas. …

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