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Physician Assistant training moves to master's level

  • Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Aug. 1, 2013) - Some three-dozen graduate students embark on an academic journey at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore this month that will position them to be the first to receive a Master's of Medical Science degree in Physician Assistant studies.

    They'll spend the next 27 months studying and working to earn a credential in primary health care where critical shortages exist nationally, including here on Delmarva.

    According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on job prospects for those considering the profession, "employment of physician assistants is expected to increase 30 percent (this decade), much faster than the average of all professions."

    That federal survey from the spring of 2012 also says $86,410 was the median annual salary - the midway point of what all Physician Assistants were earning.

    Physician Assistants - or PAs as they are known - are licensed to practice medicine under a doctor's supervision.

    UMES began training PAs in 1999, when it initially offered coursework leading to a bachelor's degree.

    The University System of Maryland gave UMES the OK in 2011 to provide graduate-level instruction only, which puts the university in compliance with the national accrediting body that set a master's degree as the minimum credential to earn a license to practice. That policy takes effect in 2015.

    It is part of a trend in health care, where those entering the profession must complete high-level training. UMES also awards doctorates in physical therapy and pharmacy to address more rigorous professional standards in those fields.

    Physician Assistant training traces its roots to the Vietnam War era, when Navy hospital corpsmen and Army medics routinely provided life-saving treatment to injured servicemen on the field of battle.

    UMES PA students are exposed to an intensive medical-model curriculum designed to complement physician training. They learn to conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care and assist in surgery. They also can write prescriptions.

    Acting program chairman Peter M. Stanford, a graduate of Duke University where PA training got its start in the 1960s, says the program's unofficial watchwords are "clinic ready."

    That's because after 15 months of eight-hour days in the classroom and laboratory, UMES students spend the another 12 months fulfilling clinical rotation requirements, where they work alongside practicing professionals in hospitals, clinics and other settings. Students are exposed to emergency medicine, pediatric care, general surgery, women's health programs, behavioral and mental health settings.

    Such a broad educational program, the university notes, "promotes health and wellness through the provision of quality primary care health education, in a diverse environment that values the discovery of knowledge, the development and dissemination, and practical application of that knowledge through community outreach and service."

    Applicants seeking admission to UMES must hold a bachelor's degree with a concentration in the study of science, including organic chemistry, anatomy, zoology and microbiology.

    Carla Kotsifakis, who chairs the university's admissions' screening committee, says UMES had more than 300 applicants for the inaugural class of master's degree candidates, and already has as many for the limited number of seats in the next class a year from now.

    Of the 37 who begin their studies this month, 22 hail from 13 states other than Maryland. Kotsifakis says that's good for the state because the hope is they will remain in Maryland after earning their licenses.

    Details about UMES' PA program and pre-requisites for applying are posted online at:

    Bill Robinson, director, Office of Public Relations, (410) 621-2355.