SMU Physician Assistant program receives $1.23 million Federal Grant
PAs are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine under physician supervision. They were introduced in the U.S. in the 1960s to alleviate shortage and misdistribution of primary care physicians. The PA role has now spread outside the US, with various levels of development underway around the world.
Michael DeRosa, MPH, PhD, PA-C, Chair of the Master of Physician Assistant (MPA) program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU), is an instructor some students say resemble 'Dr. Gregory House,' a character on the FOX medical drama "House," with his short hair and bold personality. But unlike the character on television, Dr. DeRosa actually does enjoy interacting with patients and educating his physician assistant (PA) students to become highly skilled healthcare professionals who will serve diverse, underserved communities. He is an advocate for developing strong partnerships and collaborative relationships with physicians, clinicians, and other healthcare professionals about expanding, promoting, and developing ideas to educate everyone about the PA profession, especially in rural and underserved areas.
After several years of developing proposals and applying for federal funding, Dr. DeRosa's hard work paid off. In early October SMU received a $1.23 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The grant will be used to further expand the MPA program in California and begin a program in Hawaii. The scholarship funds will be used for development of a Health Professional Shortage Area track (HPSA Track) within the PA program. The HRSA grant will provide support for 28 additional students over the next five years.
President Sharon Diaz is delighted that the University has received the HRSA grant. "A greater number of PAs will have a direct impact on the number of future primary care providers in our state and in Hawaii," said President Diaz. "With fewer medical students pursuing careers in primary care, the PA program will help fill the gap created by a shortage of primary care physicians. These kinds of funds are win-win."
Under the leadership of Dr. DeRosa, the grant will meet the growing need for cost-effective and accessible healthcare. It will provide assistance in underserved counties in Northern California and in Hawaii. Students from these areas who express an interest in providing primary care in their home environments after graduation are eligible to receive $22,000 per year for two years through the HRSA funding.
The students will complete the didactic phase in Oakland and all required clinical rotations in the targeted HPSA area (California or Hawaii). "With this grant we are able to expand the program without putting further pressure on our local rotations," explains Dr. DeRosa.
The HPSA Track is expected to expand the MPA enrollment by eight students each year (from 36 to 44) by actively recruiting four qualified students from 13 medically underserved counties in Northern California and four from Hawaii.
Hawaii is 1.3 million people, and 75 percent reside on the island of Oahu living in rural areas around the cities Waikiki and Honolulu. "All of Hawaii suffers from a shortage of healthcare professionals, yet the state has only 200 practicing PAs and no programs that train physician assistants," said Dr. DeRosa. "Given the incidence of obesity and other chronic diseases on the islands, the people of Hawaii have a significant need for the kind of front-line primary care that PAs provide."
The HPSA Track applicants will commit to returning to these underserved communities for clinical rotations. "Research tells us that when a student comes from an underserved area, the individual is more likely to return to their community to practice once they graduate. For example, when someone who comes from an urban environment," explains Dr. DeRosa. "It would be hard to take a resident from San Francisco and have them work in Butte County, a rural environment unfamiliar to them, versus a person from Butte County who has wanted to practice healthcare around the area they grew up in."
Dr. DeRosa adds that job opportunities would be more reliably available as well. "We know that students frequently get initial job opportunities from their clinical rotations."
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, nearly all 50 states will have a shortage of primary care physicians by the year 2020. Samuel Merritt University is one of nine schools in California to offer a PA program. There are only 148 other PA programs in the U.S.
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