Medical program ranks high

Ranked second in the country by U.S. News and World Report, GW’s Physician Assistant Program is leading the way in the medical world by relieving overburdened medical personnel and reaching out to communities.

Program officials said that while it has been ranked No. 2 for three consecutive years, they “don’t think about it.”

“Rank is nice, but not a priority,” said Prof. Jacqueline Barnett, director of Clinical Curriculum.

Program Director Dr. J. Jeffrey Heinrich said a strong commitment to community makes GW’s PA program unique.

Students are strongly encouraged to participate in non-profit programs like “I-scopes” and “La Clinica,” which provide services like STD education in high schools and translation services for non-native hospital patients.

“We have been a quality program for lots of years,” Heinrich said.”We are just being ourselves.”

The graduate program, based in the School of Medicine and Health Services, accepted a little more than 10 percent of its 504 applicants last year. Accepted students have an average grade point average of 3.5 to 3.6 and are about 26 years old, Heinrich said.

He said physician assistants “can do virtually anything a physician does” and work with a doctor’s supervision.

PAs partner with physicians, Barnett said, to take care of “common tasks.”

While physicians are concerned with running a business in addition to medical concerns, the PA’s sole responsibility is patient care, Heinrich said.
Heinrich said about half of PAs go into primary care. Twenty percent of students go into surgery, 15 percent into emergency medicine and the rest divide themselves among other medical specialties, Heinrich said.

“Resident hours are an issue right now in hospitals,” said Heinrich, referring to overwhelmed medical residents. Hospitals hire PAs, who make roughly half the salary of doctors, as “one way to bridge the gap,” he said.

Applicants for the program are strongly recommended to have at least a year of direct experience working with patients. This could include being a paramedic, emergency technician, nurse or physical therapy aid, Heinrich said.

First-year student Ryan Clancy decided to enter into the program “to get more into primary care.” Clancy said he went into the PA program because of the ability to work more closely with patients without the four-year commitment to medical school.

Clancy said he was attracted to GW because of the “diverse and experienced faculty.”

Students in the program enter into a two- or three-year course of study, earning a master’s degree in health science or combined master’s in public health and health science, in addition to the PA certificate.
The standard program is a “very rigorous, all-year training,” Heinrich said. Incoming students take twenty and then twenty-one graduate credits during their first two semesters.

GW’s Physician Assistant Program began in 1976, following a trend of hiring ex-military corpsmen trained as medical personnel while on active duty. Heinrich said that this trend was extremely successful in providing hospitals and physicians with professionals trained to perform a variety of tasks previously limited to the work of the physician.

The mostly male, military-based history of the profession is now reversed.

“Now it is exactly the opposite,” said Heinrich. “PAs are about 75 percent female.”

He also said that only two or three students in the program come in with military experience.

The Physician Assistant Program should not be considered a jump-start to medical school.

“We’re not trying to play physician,” Heinrich said. “We are very comfortable in our role.”

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