The University of Rhode Island and Johnson & Wales University have begun a partnership that that will benefit URI students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in physician assistant studies.

Provisionally accredited through the ARC-PA, which accredits physician assistant programs nationally, this program at JWU is brand new. The first class of the program started this past June and included 24 students, three of which were URI students.

According to Dr. George Bottomley, director of the Center for Physician Assistant Studies at JWU and a URI alumnus, there is a predicted growth of 25 to 30 percent in the number of jobs in the physician assistant profession between now and the year 2020. “Johnson & Wales and I thought that this was really the right thing to do at the right time to help meet the market demand for PA’s in the state of Rhode Island and in the region,” he said.

There are three main opportunities that pre-PA students at URI have through this partnership between URI and JWU. The program guarantees an interview for any URI student who meets the minimum requirements for application, reserves six spots each year in the JWU Physician Assistant program for URI applicants who apply through this agreement and establishes an Early Identification Program (EIP).

Students who meet the minimum requirements for the EIP can apply in the spring of their sophomore year for a spot in the JWU graduate program following their senior year at URI.

Kathleen Maher,  chair of the Health Professions Advisory Committee at URI,  said that the JWU program is beneficial to Rhode Island because it can help keep URI students in Rhode Island to serve the state as primary care providers, of which there is a shortage. Along the same lines, Bottomley said, “I think it allows Johnson & Wales to be able to choose some incredible students from a Rhode Island institution.”

The intensive graduate program at JWU is two years long. The first year is a didactic curriculum, in which students complete 60.5 credits in Applied Anatomy, Foundations of Medicine, Patient Care courses as well as courses in Professional and Health Policy Issues, Clinical Medicine, Pharmacotherapeutics and Diagnostic Skills.

The second year is a clinical curriculum in which students complete 43.5 credits and clinical rotations. The courses that students must take include Intro to Clinical Practice, Internal, Family, Pediatric, and Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Women’s Health, Behavioral and Mental Health, and two electives, which allow the students to explore a specialty of interest.

Considering less than 29 percent of applicants are accepted into physician assistant school nationally, the JWU program is beneficial to URI students as well, as it guarantees them six spots out of a class of 24 students.

“Dr. Bottomley and Katie Spolidoro, [an admissions counselor for the JWU Physician Assistant Studies Program], have been extremely helpful to us by giving us information and advice on how to progress in our careers as future PA students,” said Ali Lovkay, President of the Pre-PA Club at URI. “Even if we don’t get accepted to the program, as long as we have the minimum requirements [with at least a 3.3 gpa] we are guaranteed an interview. This will allow us to practice interviewing skills.”

Because applicants must request to be considered for one of these six slots through the URI Pre-Health Professions Advising Program, Maher said that it gives undergraduate students the opportunity to interact with current physician assistant students at JWU who can help them with the process.

Lovkay said she plans to apply to the Physician Assistant Studies Program at JWU. “It is my number one choice, as I would love to stay in Rhode Island and be close to home,” she said.

With a particular interest in cardiothoracic surgery, she first became interested in the field after she had surgery three times on her knee. “I spent more time with my PA than my doctor. She was really great and I was shocked by the level of care she could provide. I looked more into it and realized that was what I wanted to do.”

Lovkay talked about the contact the Pre-PA Club has had with the JWU program. “Dr. Bottomley… as well as the admissions counselor came and presented to our club. They also invited us to take a tour of their facility, which just further proved that it was a great program to be a part of.”

“I’m just really happy to be able to give something back to the University of Rhode Island,” said Bottomley. “They trained me in my undergraduate years and gave me a very strong foundation for my career… I’m thrilled to be able to partner with my alma mater.” This new partnership provides a unique opportunity for the students of URI pursuing a career in healthcare. Lovkay called this an exciting step.