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New Physician Assistant Program At Sacred Heart Addresses Critical Need

Professor Teresa Thetford is Department Chair and Founding Director of a new Physician Assistant program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
Professor Teresa Thetford is Department Chair and Founding Director of a new Physician Assistant program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Sacred Heart University is taking steps to address the critical need for physician assistants in Connecticut with a new 27-month program scheduled to begin next year*.

Teresa Thetford was named in August of last year as department chair and founding director of the Physician Assistant program at SHU. Thetford also worked as an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine PA program.

Thetford said Connecticut has a significant shortage of primary care physicians and clinicians. Coupled with an aging population, Thetford said PAs will become increasingly critical in the healthcare field.

“PAs and nurse practitioners will be needed to help bridge the gap for the shortage of primary care physicians,’’ Thetford said. “Baby boomers are aging and there are more people with chronic health issues and many need ongoing care. More people are accessing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act of 2010. It has created a perfect storm. With fewer primary care providers, it has set the stage for the demand for more PAs.”

There were more than 800 applicants to earn one of the 28 seats in the program, which is scheduled to start in August 2016. The class features 12 months classroom time and 15 months in a clinical phase working with physicians and PAs. “Students will get 2,000 hours of clinical experience and they’ll rotate through every area of medicine with an emphasis on primary care,’’ Thetford said. “Graduates must then pass a national board exam and apply for state licensure. Once they do that, PAs can work in any area medicine. It’s a wonderful profession because there is a lot of flexibility.”

Thetford said applicants interested in the program should have a good understanding of the basic sciences, such as chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Students will have to complete some science pre-requisites, and will be required to complete a master’s capstone service-learning project focusing on a community health need and solutions.

“We are really focusing on a primary care emphasis,’’ Thetford said. “In the state of Connecticut, only 11 percent of PAs are currently working in primary care. Our program will help students learn about primary care and focus on community service. We believe if students are out there and involved in the community, they’ll want to continue. We need more people who want to work in community programs and focus on community service.”

Thetford said she researched the needs of the state and wanted a program that was different from others in Connecticut. Sacred Heart plans to increase the number of students to 34 in 2017 and 42 in 2018.

SHU is the second-largest Catholic university in New England, and The Princeton Review includes SHU in The Best 380 Colleges 2015. Since joining SHU, Thetford has been impressed by the college’s commitment to the new program.

“Having that university administrative support has been great,’’ she said. “You can’t do it if everything is a battle. They’ve been supportive in getting facilities, the needed clinical sites, and resources to put this program together. It’s a wonderful place to work.”

*Sacred Heart University (SHU) has applied for Accreditation – Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). SHU anticipates matriculating its first class in August 2016, pending achieving Accreditation – Provisional status at the March 2016 ARC-PA meeting. Accreditation – Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards or when a program holding accreditation-provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students.

Daily Voice produced this article as part of a paid Content Partnership with our advertiser, Sacred Heart University- PA Program

We are highly selective with our Content Partners, and only share stories that we believe are truly valuable to the communities we serve.

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