Physician Assistants in Training

Photo Credit: Robert Steckmest, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

First semester of new School of Medicine program

Before 2014, someone who wanted to pursue a degree as a physician assistant — or PA — would have to move outside the Kansas City area. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine’s new master’s degree PA program has brought training for this important medical profession to our community.

“I was especially interested in the UMKC program because I was born, raised and currently reside with my family in Kansas City,” said student Jon Lundquist, one of the 14 students in the school’s inaugural PA class. More than 100 people applied. “I also felt it was an exciting opportunity to be a part of a brand new program. The UMKC program has given me a chance to learn in, as well as eventually serve, the community I call home.”

The closest accredited PA programs outside of UMKC are at Wichita State University in Kansas and Missouri State University in Springfield. Neither is administered through a school of medicine, where future physicians and PAs learn side by side. The training model of the PA program at the UMKC School of Medicine mirrors the team-based approach of PAs working under the supervision of a physician to improve coordination of care and patient outcomes.

Because of their general medical background, PAs have flexibility in the types of medicine they can practice. PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medicine.

An education to become a PA was a viable option for Lundquist, who has children.

“After graduating from college, my intention was to pursue my education in the field of medicine. However, circumstance and opportunity propelled me into healthcare information technology, which was lucrative and promising, but ultimately not my passion,” Lundquist said. “Becoming a PA would give me the opportunity to master technical proficiencies while working directly with patients in a compassionate and altruistic way.”

PAs were created in the mid-1960s due to a shortage of primary care physicians. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts PAs will be one of the fastest growing professions in the next decade, increasing 38 percent from 86,700 in 2012 to 120,000 in 2022. The median salary for a PA in 2012 was $90,930 per year.

“I first learned about the profession of a physician assistant in one of my undergrad classes when a PA who specialized in neurosurgery and family practice explained the roles,” said Chelsea Light, a student in the UMKC School of Medicine PA program. “I knew I belonged in the healthcare field, but I was drawn to this profession specifically because PAs are able to provide patient contact and change their specialties throughout their career.”

The profession often tops “best career” lists. Being a PA was the No. 2 best job in 2010, according to Money magazine.

“PAs are becoming necessary in the care of our community due to the projected physician shortages, changes in healthcare delivery systems and the increasing aging population of the U.S.,” said Kathy Ervie, director of the PA program at the UMKC School of Medicine and a practicing PA in the Kansas City area. “Due to the unique structure of our community, encompassing both rural and urban underserved populations, PAs can be uniquely placed to not only increase access, but also provide high-quality, cost-effective care through a collaborative team approach.”

Both Light and Lundquist say this introductory semester at the UMKC School of Medicine has been a positive experience.

“The program director, my academic adviser and professors have taken a personal interest in me and are truly committed to my personal success in the program,” Lundquist said. “I also feel my fellow classmates are a fantastic, well-educated and personable group of folks. I have already made some good friendships that I know will continue into our careers.”

|Stacy Downs, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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