With the only Physician Assistant Studies Program in Texas outside a medical school, The University of Texas-Pan American is expanding its scope to students at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College through the establishment of the Early Physician Assistant Studies Program (EPASP).
"We are excited about this collaboration with UTB/TSC as it demonstrates our commitment to the South Texas community. Through this program, UT Pan American and UTB/TSC will double the efforts of service to the medically underserved region and assure our citizens receive access to health care while also receiving the best possible care from the finest physician assistants in the area, our graduates," said Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
The five students will receive conditional acceptance to the UTPA program, a master's degree granting program, upon completing a bachelor's degree in biology following a time-sequenced PA Program Premedical Track curriculum at UTB/TSC.
The objective of the early acceptance program is to increase the annual number of persons within the Brownsville/Cameron County area entering a PA program. Currently the number of applications to health-related programs from the student population in the Brownsville area has been minimal.
"The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College is pleased to partner with The University of Texas-Pan American on a physician assistant program. The Rio Grande Valley has a critical need for additional health providers in a number of fields, and this program will increase the number of physician assistants who will be trained in the Valley and then enter the health care field. This is another example of how the two universities in our region are working together to address the pressing needs of our communities across the Valley," said Dr. Charles Dameron, UTB/TSC vice president for Academic Affairs.
According to Frank Ambriz, UTPA Physician Assistant Studies Program chair, the Texas Medical Board reported there were 177 licensed physician assistants as of September 2008 in the Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, and Starr counties. "While the UTPA PA program has had success in recruiting students from Brownsville, the students tend to find employment in immediate areas where they received their training, mostly the McAllen and Mid-Valley areas," Ambriz said. "If we can recruit and train in the Brownsville area we hope to make an impact in the delivery of health care to this area."
The Physician Assistant Studies Program was started in 1994 as a cooperative program between The University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston and UTPA, and since then has graduated approximately 225 PAs.
"Approximately 85 percent of our recent graduates in the last five years have remained to practice in the area of South Texas," Ambriz said. Currently, UTPA's Physician Assistant Studies Program has more than 800 applicants applying for next year's class.
"We will accept 40 students for next year. This is our largest class and we do not foresee increasing in size," Ambriz said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 edition, PA jobs are expected to increase by 27 percent between 2006-2016, much faster than the average for all occupations (21 percent or more) in the country.
"The physician assistant profession is one of the hot, top five popular careers," Ambriz said. "Health care is thriving in these depressed economic times and PAs are in hot demand."
Ambriz said the ultimate goal of EPASP is to provide the community with access to health care, particularly in low-income, uninsured, and poverty-stricken areas of South Texas. According to a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau report, the number and percentage of uninsured Hispanics has increased from 14 million (32.3 percent) in 2005 to 15.3 million (34.1 percent), and from 2004-2006, Texas (24.1 percent) had the highest percentage of uninsured individuals. In the category of smaller cities (65,000 to 249,999 population), Brownsville had one of the highest poverty and lowest-income rates.
Eder Hernandez, a UTB/TSC 2007 graduate and a master's degree candidate in the PA program, said he is proud to be part of the UTPA program and he believes the agreement is a good thing for the Brownsville area.
"Coming here from Brownsville I felt prepared for another level of education. They (UTPA) do train you to become quality health care providers and they train you to give back to the community. That is what is so different about this program from other programs. I am really happy to be part of the whole thing," Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who has had six formal job offers and accepted three, said when he graduates in May he will be headed back to his hometown of Brownsville to work for three different physicians.
"It is really important for me to go back there because I grew up in that area. I have been trained here at UTPA, but I will go back to where I'm really from and provide patient care to a medically underserved area. That is where I feel comfortable," Hernandez said.
UTB/TSC students interested in applying for EPASP must do so through the Office of Premedical Education and Biomedical Research Programs at the Brownsville campus.
For more information, contact the UTPA Physician Assistant Studies Program at 956/381-2298 or call the UTB/TSC Office of Premedical Education and Biomedical Research Programs at 956/882-5045 to apply.