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How Hybrid Physician Assistant Studies Programs Make a Community Impact

March 20, 2024

As the health care landscape continues to shift, training programs must evolve to meet new challenges as well as the needs of aspiring medical professionals. Hybrid physician assistant programs, such as the University of Pittsburgh’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies – Hybrid Program (PAS-Hybrid), offer the flexibility of online learning without sacrificing the crucial hands-on clinical experiences of traditional in-person education. 

This article explores how the hybrid learning format allows physician assistant studies students in Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program to gain clinical practice experience in health care settings so they can acquire an understanding of a community’s particular medical needs—and learn how they can contribute to a more equitable health care system. 

The Future of Physician Assistant Education Is Here 

The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of health care providers, creating a significant gap in services. According to the American Medical Association, more than 83 million people live in areas without sufficient access to a primary care physician. And this issue could become worse: The Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage of up to 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034. 

However, PAs can provide many of the same services as medical doctors, helping to fill the medical provider supply gap, and many patients are comfortable with them doing so. In a recent American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA)-Harris Poll, more than 90% of patient respondents said that “PAs should be allowed to provide care to the fullest extent of their education, training and experience” and believe that “fully utilizing [them] improves patient health.” 

In line with these trends, the demand for PAs is growing. With the employment of physician assistants expected to increase by 27% over the next decade, reaching and preparing the next generation of PAs requires rethinking traditional educational pathways. According to a recent Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report, students are increasingly interested in online and hybrid programs, with enrollment in these formats growing by 36% and 20%, respectively. 

The flexibility and convenience of hybrid learning enable students to balance their education with other commitments and is gaining traction within PA education. Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program, for example, combines online didactic education with in-person clinical experiences in local communities. 

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Clinical Practice Experiences 

At their core, hybrid physician assistant programs can integrate a community-oriented approach to teaching and learning. The Pitt PAS-Hybrid Program curriculum goes beyond traditional classroom learning by incorporating supervised clinical practice experiences in internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, surgery, behavioral health, and obstetrical and gynecological medicine at partner health facilities across the country. 

Pitt’s clinical education team works with students to place them, whenever possible, in nearby health care facilities with preceptors for their clinical rotations. These opportunities ensure students not only develop medical expertise but also acquire real-world experience within their local health care infrastructure. Prioritizing community-based education allows students to gain insights and develop the skills to help address the unique medical needs of that area. 

Can Hybrid PA Programs Help Address Health Care Disparities?

Rural communities face more challenges in accessing adequate health care than their urban counterparts. According to the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas. People living in rural areas also tend to experience higher rates of poverty and have limited access to transportation, making it difficult to access care. 

However, provider availability and socioeconomic status are not the only factors driving health disparities in rural communities. According to an Institute of Medicine (IOM) study of health care across the U.S., bias, stereotyping, prejudice, and clinical uncertainty also play a role in perpetuating health care disparities. By offering community-focused clinical education, Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program allows PA students to address these challenges without necessarily relocating to an urban or campus environment for training. 

Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program also educates students in newer health care delivery modalities, such as telemedicine. This care delivery model improves access to health care by eliminating physical distance as a barrier while also addressing rural provider shortages, reducing costs, and improving health care outcomes and patient satisfaction. The hybrid learning experience helps PA students develop their soft skills, such as communication and digital proficiency, and prepares them to be more effective telehealth advocates and health care providers

Help Improve Access to Care with the PAS-Hybrid Program 

Hybrid learning is changing the PA education landscape for the better, making graduate programs more accessible. As a result, more advanced care providers are entering the workforce, addressing the provider shortage, and improving access to health care. 

If you’re interested in becoming a PA, consider the Pitt PAS-Hybrid Program. In just two years, you will gain the clinical experience to help transform patient care. Through virtual courses taught by practicing physician assistants and case-based group activities, you will develop competencies in areas such as pharmacology, patient care, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, health policy, and surgery. With over 850 clinical placement slots available around the country, program staff make every effort to match you with health care facilities near your area for eight clinical rotations. 

To learn more about the Pitt PAS-Hybrid Program curriculum, tuition and financial aid, and admissions process, schedule a call with an enrollment advisor for one-on-one support. They can help answer any questions and provide tips for submitting a strong application. If you’re ready to take the next step in advancing your career and making a difference in your community, review the next cohort dates and start your application

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