MEDEX Northwest, the UW School of Medicine’s physician assistant training program, has received $887,301 in federal funding to expand its training program to the University of Washington Tacoma. The funding is part of a national initiative to increase educational and employment opportunities for returning military veterans and to boost the healthcare workforce in primary care in rural and underserved areas.
Last year, the Health Resources and Services Administration gave funding priority to universities and colleges that offer physician assistant programs that actively recruit, retain, and mentor military veterans. They were also seeking model programs that could be replicated across the country to increase the healthcare labor workforce.
Physician assistants (PAs) are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Their training complements physician training. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states can write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA's practice may also include education, research, and administrative services. All PA education programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
“Of all the PA programs in the country, we are seen as the number one champion for physician assistant training among experienced healthcare workers and the military,” said Ruth Ballweg, MEDEX director. “A big part of our history is training military personnel. Of our nearly 1,900 graduates, about 620 are military people. This funding allows us to add 24 training slots to the UW Tacoma campus, which is actively engaged in outreach with the returning military community and has a good working relationship and partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”
Madigan Army Medical Center, located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will be one of the training sites for MEDEX students. UW Tacoma is located within 15 miles of JBLM, which made the campus an ideal location for the MEDEX program. Madigan's head physician Col. (Dr.) Karen O'Brien, deputy commander for clinical services, expressed strong support of the MEDEX expansion.
"As an engaged community partner, Madigan Healthcare System welcomes all opportunities to train service members in all medical career fields with our civilian counterparts,” O’Brien said. “The University of Washington and Madigan have a long-standing relationship and we congratulate the University of Washington School of Medicine's receipt of federal funds to expand the MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Training Program to the Tacoma campus."
The new UW Tacoma training site will join existing MEDEX sites located in Seattle, Yakima, Spokane, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska. Bachelor's degree programs will be offered at the Anchorage, Yakima and UW Tacoma sites, while master's degree programs will be offered at the Seattle and Spokane sites. The UW Tacoma program will begin officially in spring 2013 with an online lead-in to later classroom instruction. The site director is Henry Stoll.
Ballweg said the goal of the MEDEX program is to increase educational access for qualified applicants but also to provide affordable primary care in rural and underserved communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Ballweg noted that, ironically, veterans with medical backgrounds have the highest unemployment among all veterans because members of the civilian community have a hard time translating the medical experience of military medics and corpsmen into actual jobs in healthcare.
“Their training and experience on the battlefield is not understood. They’re not civilian nurses; they’re not paramedics. So, the community asks, ‘What are they?’ The MEDEX program values the experiences and qualities that military folks bring to the table,” Ballweg said.
“Since we’ve been training physician assistants since 1969, we know that military personnel are highly likely to go into primary care and have the experience of, and often the preference for, working in rural and remote communities. They are used to having a lot of responsibility and taking charge.”
About UW Medicine
UW Medicine trains health professionals and medical scientists, conducts research to improve health and prevent disease worldwide, and provides primary and specialty care to patients throughout Seattle/King County and the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) region. UW Medicine includes: Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, UW School of Medicine and Airlift Northwest. UW Medicine also shares in the ownership and governance of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Seattle Children’s Hospital and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and in the ownership of Children’s University Medical Group with Seattle Children’s Hospital. UW Medicine has major academic and service affiliations with Seattle Children’s Hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Veteran’s Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, and the VA Hospital in Boise, Idaho.
UW Medicine has major academic and service affiliations with Seattle Children’s Hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Veteran’s Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, and the VA Hospital in Boise, Idaho. The UW School of Medicine has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in primary-care training for the past 18 years by US News & World Report. It is the top public institution for receipt of biomedical research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and second among all institutions for NIH funding, public and private. UW Medicine’s 2,000 full-time faculty and nearly 5,000 volunteer and part-time faculty include four Nobel Laureates, 33 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 33 members of the Institute of Medicine. For more information, visit UW Medicine. Follow us on Twitter - @UWMedicineNews