Stanford Launches Master of Science Program in Physician Assistant Studies

Rhonda Larsen, PA, (left) and Susan Fernandes, PA, helped design the new program.

For the first time, Stanford will offer a master of science program designed to train physician assistants as both clinicians and future leaders in health care.

“As health care access improves, we need to equip medical practitioners with the skills to meet growing demand,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “This new master of science program for physician assistants helps health care teams navigate that complexity and provide precision health: personalized treatment when disease strikes and proactive and preventive care that keeps people from getting sick in the first place.”

Designed for a class of 25 to 30 students, the 30-month program will emphasize training alongside medical students in coursework and clinical care. It will also require students to choose a scholarly concentration within one of four fields: community health, health services and policy research, clinical research or medical education.

“With the increasing emphasis on coordinated, team-based care as supported by the Affordable Care Act, it is critical that the School of Medicine be able to create an integrated, team-learning environment to educate the biomedical scientists and clinicians of the future,” said Robert Harrington, MD, professor and chair of medicine.

The master’s degree program replaces the associate degree program to train physician assistants that began in 1971 as a partnership between the School of Medicine and Foothill College, a two-year community college in Los Altos, California.

The new program is designed to meet the expanding role of PAs in today’s changing health care environment, said Susan Fernandes, PA, clinical professor of pediatrics and of medicine (cardiology).

“Today’s PAs practice in all areas of medicine,” Fernandes said. “They are leading community health centers, front stage in the health care policy arena, leaders in the classroom and changing health care delivery through innovation and research.”

The role of the PA, one of the fastest growing professions, has expanded in part due to a shortage of physicians nationwide and the need to meet the growing demands of an aging population, Fernandes said. She and Rhonda Larsen, PA, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, helped design the new program.

“We are trying to educate the next generation of PA leaders,” Larsen said. “No other program sets out to do this.”

PAs treat patients as part of a health care team, collaborating with physicians and other providers, Fernandes said. They often provide a broad range of health care services that may include conducting physical exams, ordering and interpreting medical tests, diagnosing illnesses, developing treatment plans, prescribing medication and assisting in surgery.

The curriculum will emphasize training in the foundational sciences during five academic quarters, followed by a year of clinical clerkships. There will be clerkships in obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, ambulatory family medicine, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry and emergency medicine. In addition, students will have several elective rotations that will allow them to specialize in their field of interest.

“This is a new direction for Stanford, which has been traditionally a very research-heavy medical school,” said Andrew Nevins, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and medical director of the new program. “There is little training of advanced practice providers such as PAs. There is no school of nursing, no pharmacy school. This is an opportunity for Stanford to make a mark on this rapidly growing field.”

Republished with permission from the School of Medicine’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs.