Here’s a good news story for the holiday season – and my good news stories don’t often include stories of collaboration between payers and providers! Enjoy.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), and the UNC School of Medicine (UNC) are collaborating to create a physician assistant (PA) master’s degree program designed for returning military veterans with input from the United States Army Special Operations Command team at Fort Bragg, N.C. The program will build on the medical experience and training that Special Forces Medical Sergeants receive during their service and provide opportunities for veterans who want to transfer their unique and hard-earned skills into the health care system. This collaborative effort will improve health care access for North Carolinians by reducing the shortage of health care professionals in our state.
BCBSNC has pledged $1.2 million over the next four years to help UNC establish the master’s curriculum and hire full-time program staff. A significant portion of the grant will provide scholarship funds through the Medical Foundation of North Carolina to assist Special Forces Medical Sergeants who have transitioned out of the military. The program will be based in the School of Medicine’s Department of Allied Health Sciences.
The United States and North Carolina are facing a deepening shortage of doctors and primary care physicians. Some figures estimate that by 2020, there will be a national shortage of about 150,000 physicians and 65,000 primary care physicians. And in North Carolina, almost 1 million people live in areas that do not have enough health care professionals to effectively serve their communitiesii. UNC will create a two-year curriculum with training rotations at UNC Hospitals and free clinics around the state. The program’s training will focus on primary care to meet the needs of underserved communities in North Carolina.
Research has indicated there will be high interest and participation in the program. A 2010 national survey of Special Forces Medical Sergeants revealed that nine out of ten respondents wanted to pursue a career in health care outside of a military setting, and about half were interested in becoming PAs.
The UNC Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies degree program, pending approval by the Board of Governors, is in the early planning stages and plans to enroll its first class of student veterans in 2015.