Dr. Jonathan Corrigan is one of those old-school PAs who’s been around for a while. He entered the medical field almost 20 years ago when PAs were still getting Bachelor’s degrees. Demonstrating the flexibility and legendary lateral mobility of the generalist PA, Dr. Corrigan has done everything from hospital and emergency medicine to being the VP of Health Services at an occupational health company.
Dr. Corrigan finished his PA training at the University of Findlay in 2007. But he didn’t stop there. He earned a Master’s degree in PA medicine with an emphasis in Emergency Medicine before becoming a Doctor of Health Science in 2017.
The Making of a PA Doctor
At Nova Southeastern, where PA Corrigan became Dr. Corrigan, health care practitioners, public health professionals, and health care administrators alike come together to “build the advanced analytical and conceptual capabilities … to successfully navigate today’s most critical health care challenges.”
“I chose to get a doctorate with aspirations of going into administration and education,” says Dr. Corrigan. Having a doctoral degree opened the door to new opportunities, he says. “My recent activities include being a member of my hospital’s Advanced Practice Provider Governance Committee.” Dr. Corrigan helps to advance the PA profession within the hospital and educate staff and administration about who PAs are, what they do, and what more they can do.
A PA Leader
Besides advancing his own career, Dr. Corrigan has looked out for other PAs. He helped launch the first annual PA recognition week at his hospital, for example. He was also the founding administrator for the PA Doctorate Association and a founding board member of The Academy of Doctoral PAs.
Regarding his doctoral education, Dr. Corrigan states that his expertise is in health care administration and management. “The focus was on leadership and administration,” he says. Back in 2013, when he started his doctorate, there were just two options: AT Still or Nova Southeastern. He paid the entire cost of tuition out-of-pocket.
When asked about PA education and the entry-level doctorate, Dr. Corrigan says that he used to believe that PAs should stay at the Master’s level. “I don’t think we need to pay more for a higher degree to do the same thing we do now,” he quips. “On the other hand, are we going to remain competitive with other providers if they advance to doctorates and we don’t?”
But the issue of an entry-level doctorate is controversial. Currently, the entry-level degree for PA medicine is a Master’s. At the present time, doctorates are for the especially ambitious. “I don’t think anyone should oppose doctorates. A doctorate should be available to any PA who wants to get one and for whatever their reason is. I consider myself a Doctor of Health Science, but only on paper. When I go to work every day, I’m a PA and don’t feel I need to be called Doctor,” says Dr. Corrigan who currently practices in urology.
Physicians and Physician Associates
Another perennial hot topic is the name change. The American Academy of PAs House of Delegates voted in May 2021 to adopt anew the profession’s original title of Physician Associate. “I am pro name change but I’m not satisfied with the change from assistant to associate,” says Dr. Corrigan who felt the change needed to be more drastic. “I was for ‘Medical Practitioner’. I think the million-dollar price tag to simply go with ‘associate’ was not money well spent. We could have used a million-dollar influx into marketing.”
Dr. Corrigan is a full supporter of Optimal Team Practice and Full Practice Authority but he doesn’t think PAs need a doctorate to achieve that. History has proven him prophetic. States like Wyoming and Utah adopted full practice authority for PAs in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic led many more states to suspend archaic supervisory rules to allow PAs to pivot into needed positions. Too many states didn’t act decisively enough, however, and many healthcare providers actually lost their jobs.
A recurring issue among PAs with doctoral degrees is whether or not to use the earned honorific in clinical practice. “I believe anyone with an earned doctorate degree should be able to use the title. However, everyone should also identify themselves by the title of the license they hold,” states Dr. Corrigan.
In today’s healthcare environment, your “doctor” could be a podiatrist, psychologist, optometrist, audiologist, or many others. Despite how loudly some anachronistic physicians object, “Doctor” does not refer to any single profession, not even in healthcare.
Doctors of Medicine and Doctors of Medical Science
The latest addition to the family of doctors is the Doctor of Medical Science. “The DMSc boom has taken off considerably in the past 5 years,” remarks Dr. Corrigan. “I think they should be standardized with clinical, administrative, and academic pathways.” He also believes that the actual name of the degrees needs standardization, both at the Masters and doctoral levels. “We should get away from degrees with ‘PA studies’ in the title. I support MMSc and DMSc as the standard.”
But not all PA doctorates are created equally. Some are focused on leadership and administration, like Dr. Corrigan’s DHSc, and others are entirely clinical (LMUs DMS). When asked if even a non-clinical or quasi-clinical doctorate will help improve clinical practice, Dr. Corrigan responds: “I believe that anything that contributes to your fund-of-knowledge can help improve your clinical practice. Educational and life experiences help you approach problems, patients, and processes differently. My DHSc classes in law, policy, patient safety, ethics, etc… all help my current clinical practice.”