The School of Medicine welcomed its inaugural class of Physician Assistant (PA) students in January 2017.
Interest has been strong – more than 1,200 people initiated the application process for 20 available spots – and with good reason. The profession is expanding rapidly and has been highlighted by national news media as one of the most promising jobs in the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that available PA jobs will increase 30 percent by 2022.
Director Amy Allen says the program may help increase access to care in the state.
“South Carolina has a shortage of health professionals. Our PA students will be primed to fill those gaps in underserved areas.”
Under the supervision of a physician, PAs are trained to perform a large array of patient care services. They are able to conduct physical exams, make diagnoses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medications and provide patient education and treatments. Some can even assist with complex procedures such as cardiac bypass surgery.
One of the most appealing perks for students interested in health care is versatility. PAs have a wide range of options open to them after graduation, and many will work in several different areas of medicine during their careers.
Generally they can start practicing as soon as a month after graduation, though some will choose to pursue additional specialized training.
According to Allen, the new primary care focused program is well positioned to become one of the top-rated Physician Assistant programs in the state, and the nation.
“We have key clinical partners, excellent faculty with various backgrounds and expertise, and comprehensive support from the School of Medicine, the university and the community.”
Ultrasound technology makes the program an attractive one for students – it will be integrated into their anatomy and physiology education from the beginning in partnership with the SOM’s state-of-the-art Ultrasound Institute. Allen says the opportunity to learn and use ultrasound is invaluable for future care providers.
“They can actually see the blood flow through the veins….when they’re palpating the spleen, for instance, they feel it with their fingertips and can also see it on ultrasound. It’s a huge aid in our training.”
PA students may also be able to participate in groundbreaking research during their clinical rotations, which take place after they complete 15 months of classroom work.
Student Paige Perreault already has two years of experience in cardiovascular research under her belt, even presenting her work with colleagues from various disciplines at the national American Heart Association conference last October.
Opportunities for interprofessional collaboration within the health sciences is an integral part of the new PA program as well. Students will interact with medical, nurse anesthesia and biomedical science students at the School of Medicine, and will have the chance to examine case studies with UofSC public health, pharmacy and nursing students.
“It will really help the medical students and other learners start forming that team-based approach to medicine that is the foundation of our profession,” says Allen.
Perreault’s classmate Yvannah Garcia says the group has already begun to bond and rely on each other. “Even in the first few days of orientation we were really clicking.”
Garcia is leading the class’ collective volunteer efforts with Palmetto Children’s Hospital. They are currently collecting cards for a special Valentine’s Day event, and will be planning a different activity for the kids each month.
She says she and her classmates want to form a strong relationship with the community.
The inaugural class is expected to graduate in May of 2019.