Health Check: JWU launches physician assistant program

Johnson and Wales University Center for Physician Assistant Studies in Providence

Johnson and Wales University is the first in Rhode Island to offer a physician assistant program, and classes began this week.

Just south of the main campus in downtown Providence in the former Jewelry District is the new Johnson and Wales University Center for Physician Assistant Studies.

It was a long time coming.

"I was native Rhode Islander and someone who had to go out of state to get training. I thought it would be great to have the program in Rhode Island," said Dr. George Bottomley, the center's director.

Especially when you consider physician assistants are becoming more and more in demand.

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics has us growing in the next several years at about a 30 percent growth rate," Bottomley said.

Twenty-four inaugural students at the new center for PA studies should be ready to enter that field in two years.

"They get breaks here and there to come up for air, but they are a hard-working, dedicated passionate group of students who are really looking forward to taking care of patients," Bottomley said.

The new facility features a lecture hall equipped with global teleconferencing capabilities, and a clinical skills lab complete with exam room beds. The gross anatomy lab has moveable computers and e-study guides at each station.

Each of the students has a special reason for being in this program. Reilly Loomis graduated from the University of Rhode Island.

"I studied exercise science," Loomis said. "And I began shadowing PAs in a hospital I was volunteering in and fell in love with the profession."

Alyssa Curtis is from Utah.

"When I was in high school I tore my ACL and had a really extensive experience with an orthopedic surgeon and his PA, and the PA was phenomenal. So, it was that experience that made me want to go into this field," Curtis said.

The school is especially attractive to applicants because of what it has to offer.

"I felt it was a great opportunity, especially with this first class, to have a very personal learning environment with only 24 students but also have the resources of larger institutions like Brown nearby," Loomis said.

Collaborations are an integral part of learning.

"Food is medicine, and we're going to be collaborating with our culinary partners in the culinary school to incorporate that in to the PA program as well. It's a huge part of primary care, preventive medicine," Bottomley said.

There also will be collaborations with the Rhode Island medical community.

"Lifespan, Care New England, South County Hospital, Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, Anchor Medical," Bottomley said.

Bottomley expressed one goal.

"If we can train them in Rhode Island, we think they'll stay in Rhode Island to practice," Bottomley said.

Physician assistants work under the supervision of a doctor, but have the same scope of practice. They can write prescriptions, perform physicals, diagnose and develop treatment plans.

Bryant University is in the process of starting a physician assistant program.