Pitt gains physician assistant program

Eva Bugos | December 7, 2009

Pitt will begin its physician assistant studies program Jan. 6. Offered through the School of… Pitt will begin its physician assistant studies program Jan. 6. Offered through the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the program will offer a master of science in physician sssistant studies.

A physician assistant is a “health care professional … who practices medicine with physician supervision,” program director Deborah Opacic said. They may take patient history, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medicine, order tests and assist in surgery. Physician assistants work in primary and specialty care.

The School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences had a Board of Visitors meeting two years ago in which it was suggested the school pursue a physician assistant program, Marsha LaCovey, the program’s administrator, said.

Certified physician assistants must graduate from an accredited physician assistant program and pass the National Certification Examination put out by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Pitt’s program in physician assistant studies was granted provisional accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

Opacic said the commission sent representatives to Pitt for two days in April. Following their visit, the commission gave Pitt provisional accreditation in September, she said. ARC-PA grants provisional accreditation for a limited period to new programs and conducts follow-up visits before granting accreditation.

Pitt’s physician assistant program is a two-year program. The first year is done in the classroom, in which students take courses in internal medicine, pharmacology and physical examination. The second year is a clinical year of 11 rotations in general surgery, women’s health, pediatrics, behavioral health, emergency medicine, family medicine and internal medicine.

To be eligible for the program, students must have graduated from an accredited university with a 3.0 GPA and have completed CPR certification and 500 hours of clinical experience. Clinical experience requires hands-on contact with patients, and the program recommends gaining this experience each summer throughout college.

Pitt has given the physician assistant program space in the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center in Harmar Township.