The University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences Physician Assistant Studies program and Norton Healthcare are launching a preceptor partnership program.
The first cohort of physician assistant (PA) students will begin their clinical clerkship rotations with preceptors in the Norton Healthcare system in Louisville this June.
Norton Healthcare has pledged nearly $715,000 over three years through its James R. Petersdorf Fund to support the preceptor program, which will develop a robust network of qualified PA preceptors within the Norton Healthcare system. The preceptors will teach, supervise and evaluate PA students during their clinical clerkship rotations with the aim of offering full-time employment with Norton Healthcare to 50 percent of the students upon completion of their clerkships.
“The College of Health Sciences is proud to continue the tradition of partnerships between Norton Healthcare and UK,” said Sharon R. Stewart, Ed.D., professor and interim dean, UK College of Health Sciences. “Our college is by definition interprofessional and collaborative, and the network of Norton Healthcare preceptors will only enhance the clinical training our PA students receive.”
UK HealthCare and Norton Healthcare have a history of collaboration, including alliances in clinical programs, workforce, education and research. The organizations believe that there is power in partnership, and the ultimate goal is to improve health care for all Kentuckians.
“The preceptor partnership is an absolute win-win,” said Dr. James M. Frazier, Norton Healthcare vice president for medical affairs. “University of Kentucky students receive training from our skilled preceptors and in return we ensure that some of the best and the brightest will have the opportunity to join Norton Healthcare post-graduation.”
Physician assistants play a vital role in providing access to quality health care. PAs examine, diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of physicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is projected to increase 38 percent from 2012 to 2022. Its growth far outpaces the projected 10.8 percent employment increase across all occupations for the same period.
“We are seeing a significant shift in health care. The demand for a qualified team of heath care professionals is greater than ever,” said Bradford Schwarz, director of UK’s Division of Physician Assistant Studies (PAS). “Physician assistants are an integral part of that team. It is exciting to see that Norton Healthcare is on the leading edge in regard to the role physician assistants will play in the future of health care, not only through hiring PAs but through educating PAs as well.”
The UK PAS program was established in 1973 and is offered on UK’s primary campus in Lexington and on the rural campus of Morehead State University. The PAS program currently enrolls 171 full-time students and consists of a 93-hour program, which includes 13 months of intensive clinical clerkship rotations. Students must successfully complete 10 distinct clinical clerkships during their clinical year. The PAS program currently has more than 700 affiliation agreements in place with community-based preceptors and clinical education agreements with health care facilities.
“This is an innovative approach to training UK physician assistant students, which allows the majority , if not all, of their clinical rotations to be conducted within the Norton Healthcare system,” said David A. Fahringer, associate professor and director of clinical education for the UK PAS program, who will implement the preceptor partnership with Norton Healthcare, alongside Schwarz. “This will enable the students to be more involved in direct patient care, such as using the EPIC electronic charting system, and acquiring a better understanding on how the Norton Healthcare system operates.”
The initial group of nine students who will begin their clerkships in June are being referred to as the “Norton Nine.” One of those students is Eric Heely, a 2001 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served in the South Zabul Province in Afghanistan. Heely said his desire to become a PA began when he was deployed in Afghanistan in 2008.
“In the Army, PAs hold a very direct role in soldier health care,” Heely said. “At my Fort Polk group, we had a Battalion-level PA, and he was the most respected officer in the unit. Having that primary care role of working with patients directly is what really appeals to me about being a PA.”
Heely, who is originally from Clovis, California lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter. He said he and his family have had positive experiences as patients in the Norton Healthcare system, and he is looking forward to beginning his clinical clerkship rotations close to home.
“The fact that Norton Healthcare is seeking out PA students and hiring more PAs to deal with the national health care issues, which are currently causing so many difficulties, shows a great devotion to providing better access to care for more people,” said Heely, who is who is now in the Army Reserve. “While I have my current clinical interests in emergency medicine and surgery, I truly look forward to all of my rotations through Norton Healthcare, as I learn about different fields through clerkships.”