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Northwestern Develops Physician Assistant Program

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July 21, 2009 | by Marla Paul
CHICAGO --- Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine will offer a Physician Assistant Program that will have as its academic home the department of family and community medicine. Pending a successful provisional accreditation visit in December 2009 and positive review by the Accreditation Review Commission in March 2010, the program will welcome its first class of 30 students in June 2010.

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, physician assistants (PAs) "are health professionals who practice medicine as members of a team with their supervising physicians. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PA's conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and prescribe medications.”

The Feinberg PA Program, only the fifth program in Illinois, will help meet the need for primary care providers and the growing demand for PAs as resident physician work hours face potential reductions and efforts mount to control healthcare costs.

The PA Program will be a two-year master’s degree program, which will include one year of classroom instruction and one year of clinical rotations. The program will utilize problem-based and team-based learning in the curriculum, which is structured in the medical model and designed to complement physician training. Students will have the option of three clinical tracks: primary care, hospital medicine and surgery. The program’s prerequisites include a bachelor’s degree, GRE, 1,000 hours of previous clinical experience and coursework similar to that required for medical school.

The program is being developed with support from Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Feinberg School of Medicine. Russell Robertson, M.D., chair of the department of family and community medicine at Feinberg and chair of family medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said, “Our PA students will have the unique advantage of learning in two excellent institutions committed to the highest standards of patient care and education.”

James A. Van Rhee, associate professor of family and community medicine, will be the new program director. He comes to Northwestern from Wake Forest University, where he was the chair of the department of physician assistant studies and the PA Program director since 2006. Van Rhee also serves on the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Van Rhee is currently in pursuit of his doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Nebraska. Van Rhee said, “My twelve years of experience in PA education will help the Northwestern PA Program become a leader in PA education as we develop a program with a focus on primary care, a number of specialty residencies for PA's and the possibility of combined degrees with other programs within the Northwestern system.”

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through the PA Program Web site www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/depts/fcm/pa, starting in July. For more information about the PA Program, contact Gia DiGiacobbe, educational programs manager, at gdigiacobbe@northwestern.edu or 312-503-1851.