Programs aim to meet demand for advanced practice providers

May 26th, 2017

By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Health care occupations will add more jobs – 2.3 million – than any other group of occupations between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. However, some occupations within this sector are growing faster than others.

Jobs for advanced practice providers are projected to balloon 30 to 31 percent between 2014 and 2024. That’s compared to 14 percent for doctors and 16 percent for registered nurses in the same period, both of which surpass average job growth (7 percent).

Meeting the demand

Universities in northeast Indiana have taken note of this workforce trend and have recently introduced programs to meet the demand for these positions.

The University of Saint Francis announced a new doctoral program, a first for the university, in February. The doctor of nursing practice program will offer two advanced degree options: the BSN-DNP nurse anesthesia program and the post-MSN doctor of nursing practice program.

Trine University began accepting applications for its master of physician assistant studies program at the end of April.

Lynn Hatfield, director of provider recruitment and onboarding for Parkview Health, said that having two large health care networks in the region make it a good place for graduates to enter the job market.

“It’s a fertile market to bring those programs in because there’s such a great need,” she said.

“As baby boomers get older and, consequently, have more age-related health problems, we’re going to need more providers but there are less providers coming out of training programs.”

Hatfield said that it’s not clear why not as many young people are becoming doctors. It’s likely due to several factors, she said, including increased regulation, the physical demands of medical school and the burden of student loan debt.

Advanced practice providers (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and certified nurse specialists) are stepping in to meet the demand and their numbers are rising. Parkview Health employs more than 220 advanced practice providers, and it has hired 186 since 2015, according to Tracey Freiburger, physician and advanced practice provider recruiter for the network.

From performing physicals to delivering babies, these health care professionals provide care and treatment while working under the close supervision of a doctor.

The physician assistant will see you now

“When you see a physician assistant, it’s probably just like seeing your doctor except we introduce ourselves as a physician assistant,” said Dawn LaBarbera, director of the physician assistant program at Trine University. “It might not be any different. We have a collaborative-type relationship with our physicians. If there’s something that we’ve never seen before or something that we’re not comfortable with, we can ask the doctor.”

LaBarbera, an architect of the new program, said the program will start August 2017 pending accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Since the program’s application portal opened at the end of April, more than 200 people have expressed interest.

The 29-month program covers seven semesters. Four semesters of classroom learning take place on the Carew campus and physical assessment laboratory, while three semesters of clinical experience give each student practical preparation for his or her professional career.

The first cohort is expected to graduate December 2020. The program will accept 28 students in the first cohort, but LaBarbera hopes to gradually increase that number to 36.

So what does she expect the program’s first cohort to look like? In the past, she said, about 80 percent of physician assistants were people who were on second or third careers and usually had some health-care experience. That demographic is in the minority now, she said.

“Nowadays, most are people who have earned their bachelor’s degree with the intention of going to PA school,” she said.

People know that health-care providers are in great demand and physician assistants fit that role, she said.

Building relationships

Physician assistants will spend three semesters getting clinical experience or, as LaBarbera likes to call it, “the long job interview,” because it gives students a chance to see of a local employment opportunity is for them. Clinical experience also gives employers an opportunity to get to know students who are training to become physician assistants or other advanced practice providers.

“This is important from a business perspective because it takes so long to take someone into a system, to educate them. If you find out they’re not a fit, then you’ve wasted money on recruitment and retention,” she said.