Tufts University School of Medicine Launches Physician Assistant Program

Tufts University School of Medicine is launching a Physician Assistant (PA) Program leading to a Master of Medical Science degree. The 25-month program begins in January 2013 with a first class of 30 students, pending approval for provisional accreditation. The Tufts program is the only PA program in Massachusetts offered by a medical school and one of only three medical school-affiliated programs in New England.

The Physician Assistant Program will help meet the growing demand for primary care providers, triggered by efforts to contain health-care costs and by the continuing shortage of primary care providers. The US Department of Labor projects a 39% growth in PA jobs by 2018. The Massachusetts Medical Society’s 2011 Physician Workforce Study reported severe physician shortages in internal and family medicine, both primary care specialties, for the sixth consecutive year.

“Increasing access to care means increasing access to caregivers. We as a country are looking at more effective models to increase access to care and there is a growing role for PAs, who provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive care under the supervision of licensed physicians,” said Harris Berman, MD, dean of Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM). 

TUSM has the infrastructure and resources to respond to this growing demand because it already trains physicians in a first-rate learning environment, notes Aviva Must, PhD, dean of the Public Health and Professional Degree Programs, and chair of the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at TUSM.

“The faculty who educate future physicians will be educating our future physician assistants. PA students will have access to the resources we provide to our MD students, including a simulation center where they will work with mannequins and standardized patients; a gross anatomy laboratory; the deep resources of the Hirsh Health Sciences Library; and a state-of-the-art education building with classrooms, a full-service café, and a fitness center,” said Must.

Tufts has developed the curriculum, selected faculty, and signed agreements with clinical affiliates throughout eastern Massachusetts.

“Our goal is to begin with 30 students and expand the program to 50 students over the next three years. Another big step is accreditation; a site visit with the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant is scheduled for April 2012 and we anticipate having provisional accreditation in September 2012,” said Richard Murphy, PA-C, MBA, program director of the Physician Assistant Program at TUSM.

During their first year, students will follow a 27-course curriculum over three semesters, including training in anatomy, physical diagnosis, internal medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, women’s health, behavioral medicine, surgery, and rehabilitation medicine. In their second year, students will rotate through a 48-week schedule at affiliated hospitals, private practices, and clinics. The clinical practice rotations include emergency medicine, inpatient medicine, ambulatory medicine, behavioral medicine, surgery, pediatrics, geriatrics and rehabilitation medicine, as well as electives in fields of specific interest.

“We have become a clinical training site because Tufts has a long record of graduating physicians with excellent clinical reasoning and patient care skills. We believe they will do the same for their physician assistant students. The demand for physician assistants is growing, and working with Tufts will give South Shore Hospital an advantage in bringing on more physician assistants who have become familiar with our hospital through their clinical training rotations here,” said John Stevenson, MD, chief medical officer, South Shore Hospital.

“In addition to South Shore Hospital, our PA students will have opportunities to train at Beverly Hospital, Cape Cod Hospital, Jordan Hospital, MetroWest Medical Center, and at other hospitals, practices, and clinics throughout the greater Boston area. Expanding our clinical affiliate sites allows Tufts to build bonds with local health-care providers, provides our students with the opportunity to train in culturally and economically diverse settings, and collaboratively work on increasing the area’s access to primary care providers,” said Henry Klapholz, MD, dean for clinical affairs at TUSM.

Physician assistants practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons, often working as part of a health-care team taking medical histories, examining patients, prescribing medications, interpreting lab tests and x-rays, and diagnosing and treating patients with acute and chronic illnesses. PAs work in a variety of medical settings including hospitals, health maintenance organizations, community clinics, nursing homes, physician offices, and public health agencies.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through the PA Program website starting in May.

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