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Medical Students Join PAs to Learn Medicine in the Fast Lane

Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine is trying to fill care gaps in rural communities by training more primary care physicians. The new Lincoln Scholars program aims to fill those gaps by fast-tracking physician training. How exactly are they doing that? By having select medical students train with the PAs. 

Lincoln Scholars and Rural Health in Illinois

Much like the rest of the country, healthcare in rural Illinois is sparse. In a 2018 report, experts claim that rural residents of The Prairie State were sicker than their urban counterparts. “Rural counties have higher rates of smoking, obesity, child poverty, and teen pregnancies compared to urban counties,” they reported. “More uninsured adults live in rural areas, causing rural hospitals to close and/or cut vital services such as obstetrics care. Rural hospitals also provide fewer mental health services. Therefore, Illinois’ rural residents are more likely to die from the five leading causes of death than residents living in the state’s metropolitan regions.”

Now SIU would like more physicians to provide care in rural Illinois. SIU has been training physicians since 1970 and PAs since 1997. The PA program has been “a pioneer in using problem-based learning, simulated patients, innovative evaluation techniques, and clinical mentoring programs.” The intense PA medicine curriculum is designed to prepare primary care providers for medical practice. Most PA programs in the country are focused on training rural primary care providers. 

Rural Health in America

About 20% of Americans live in rural areas. These rural areas have traditionally had a harder time recruiting healthcare workers. The perpetual physician shortage is compounded in small, far-flung communities. And physicians aren’t filling these gaps. In fact, only 9% of American physicians practice in a rural setting (which is almost half the number of rural PAs) .  

SIUs Lincoln Scholar program consists of 6 medical students dedicated to rural primary care that join SIUs PA students for an “innovative, accelerated” curriculum that emphasizes continuous clinical education. Lincoln Scholars attend lectures with PA students and participate in all PA exams, courses, problem-based learning groups, and assignments. Upon completion of PA training, Scholars will attend a few supplementary classes prior to beginning residency. 

This is an interesting move on the part of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Instead of creating an accelerated primary care track within the medical school itself, a la LECOM, SIU chose to piggyback on the already accelerated medical training of PAs. If PA training is good enough for future physicians, will this open the way to an eventual PA to MD bridge?

PAs Were Made for Primary Care

We already know that PAs are well-trained medical professionals with clinical outcomes equivalent to those of physicians. And some are asking if today’s physicians aren’t actually overtrained. Regardless, this is a tremendous step toward the kind of interdisciplinary training that all medical professionals need to be effective in the real world. 

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