Physician Assistant Students Celebrate PA Week

Oct 12, 2017 | Stacey Ortman, director of public information

DUBUQUE, Iowa – University of Dubuque’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program celebrated National PA Week on Thursday, Oct. 12, with an outreach event in Heritage Center.

“We are hoping to educate people on what it means to be a physician assistant and how we are unique from other health care providers,” said Laura Richardson, a student in the PA program. “Physician assistants are licensed primary care providers, which means that we will work in clinics and hospitals to perform and interpret tests, diagnose patients, perform treatments, and write prescriptions. PAs can also work in just about any specialty field that physicians do.”

During the event, PA students discussed the physician assistant profession, took blood pressures of fellow UD students, and shared healthy snacking tips as well as de-stressing techniques.

“Holistic health includes a person’s physical health, mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health. It is incredibly important to understand how all of these intertwine to contribute to students' overall health and wellness,” Richardson said. “For example, if an individual is under significant stress, we can also see a decline in his or her physical health, immunity, and wellbeing, such as fatigue and chronic colds. If the health care provider takes this into consideration and focuses on improving the patient's mental and emotional health, they can potentially resolve the patient's physical health issue as well without overuse of medication.”

Celebrated annually Oct. 6-12, National PA Week recognizes the physician assistant profession as well as its contributions to the nation’s health. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the PA profession.

UD launched its PA program last year with 25 students from a pool of over 500 applications. It has since grown to 50 students. The first cohort of students will graduate December 2018, and they will be eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam to become certified physician assistants.

“Because of the rigor and accelerated pace of a PA program, the class sizes are kept small to ensure high quality students are entering the field of practice. UD is now able to contribute directly to filling the health care need right here in Iowa and the Midwest,” said Natalie Weber, assistant program director and assistant professor in the PA program

UD’s PA program, a graduate-level program, consists of a 27 month, year-round curriculum with 15 months of academic coursework followed by 12 months of clinical rotations.

“As our students go out into clinicals, it is the opportune time for sites to identify talent and recruit students to return their practice upon graduation,” Weber said. “The more clinical sites we have here in Iowa and the tri-state region, the more likely we are to retain these students to practice locally. This creates an awesome opportunity for Dubuque and surrounding communities.”

Physician assistants hold a minimum of six years of higher education and graduate with a master of science in physician assistant studies from UD. Weber said physician assistants are an integral component of the health care team, educated on the medical model, and vital to improving patient access to medical care and keeping costs of health care down.

“PAs can be a primary care provider or work in specialties, including assisting in surgery,” Weber said. “Physician assistants are critical to increasing access to care for rural and other underserved communities as they are often the only health providers in these areas.”