Physician Assistant Program Expanding Classes at UW-Marathon County

MADISON—To address the continuing shortage of primary health-care providers in northern Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is collaborating with UW-Marathon County to expand its physician assistant (PA) program to the Wausau campus.

A ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at UW-Marathon County’s Center for Civic Engagement formally introduced the expansion. Speakers included Dr. Virginia Snyder, director of the UW physician assistant program; Dr. Elizabeth Petty, senior associate dean for academic affairs; and Dr. Valerie Gilchrist, chair of the UW Department of Family Medicine.

The expanded program will begin in May 2014 with four additional students, with the number of PA students expected to reach 24 by 2016. Courses for the two-year program will be taught by UW-Madison faculty using Web-based classroom technology.

"We also hope to engage clinicians from the regional health care systems in Marathon County and beyond in delivering lectures to students at UW-Marathon County and additionally to students enrolled in the UW-Madison campus-based and distance-education tracks via synchronized sessions or videocapture," said Snyder.

She added the expansion of the PA program in Wausau comes at a time when health rankings have placed 14 counties in northern Wisconsin near the bottom in availability of health care providers and facilities.

"Our hope is that students will find placement in northern and north-central Wisconsin, including ambulatory clinic, hospital, urgent care and emergency facilities," said Snyder. "Our focus is on small, rural primary-care facilities in areas with shortages of health-care providers."

The initiative will be funded through a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which aims to improve access to health care in areas where there is a need.

Snyder anticipates the vast majority of enrollees in the PA program will come from Wisconsin and will reside in areas where health care services are needed.

"This is a targeted admissions program, and we are trying to identify candidates who are from the north-central region of the state, have a connection within their home community and/or the northern region of Wisconsin, and intend to practice in this region upon completion of this program," she said.

Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Their responsibilities include diagnosing and treating illnesses, doing routine physical examinations, ordering and interpreting tests, providing counsel on preventive health care, and assisting in surgery. PAs are also allowed to write prescriptions as delegated by their supervising physicians.

Physician assistants are required to take a national certification examination through the National Commission on Certification of PAs after they graduate, log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years, and apply for recertification every six years.

Snyder said UW-Marathon County has the physical capacity to fulfill the needs of this expansion.

For more information, call Mike Klawitter; UW Health Public Affairs at (608) 265-8199