Atlantic Canada’s first physician assistant program will be arriving at Dalhousie University in January 2024.
During an announcement from the province on Thursday morning, officials said the two-year master’s program, which will be one of only four in the country, will accept 24 students, with priority given to Nova Scotian applicants.
Michelle Thompson, the province’s minister of health, said she’s heard from doctors that an increase in physician assistants could free up time, allowing them to focus on more complex situations. There are seven physician assistants currently working in Nova Scotia.
“We know we need more healthcare providers, and physician assistants can help provide Nova Scotians faster access to care,” she said.
“We are proud to be able to train physician assistants right here in Nova Scotia.”
During a press conference on Thursday, Thompson said the program will provide students finishing their university education with “another opportunity to contribute to healthcare”.
“It opens another pathway for someone who maybe didn’t see themselves in any of the current roles and now there’s an opportunity to be a real trailblazer in this province to become a physician assistant,” she said.
In a release, the province said it’s investing $5.6 million to develop the program, with $1.5 million in annual funding.
Dr. David Anderson, dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, described the new program as a “critical step” toward improving access to health-care services in the province.
“By training physician assistants, we can help alleviate some of the burden faced by physicians and provide a pathway for an important healthcare human resource to meet the needs of our communities,” he said.
Physician assistants, under the supervision of physicians, can execute a wide range of medical procedures, such as prescribing medications, administering vaccines and assisting with surgeries.
Tara Sampalli, senior director of Global Health Systems Planning with Nova Scotia Health, said developing a “homegrown program” will aid both the recruitment and retention of physician assistants in the province.
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She described the assistants as “physician extenders”.
“They are supervised by physicians, they have similar training as physicians … so essentially physicians can supervise them, and they can do everything the physicians can do.”
She said the program is expected to increase people’s access to primary care.
“We have several physician practices that are overwhelmed because they have so many patients, some of the communities are struggling to recruit people,” she said, adding that she believes introducing more assistants into the healthcare system will encourage more physicians to continue working in the province.
“A lot of physicians will stay because of this move, we have communities where physicians need stabilization of their practice or some (are) getting close to having to close, and now they’re going to stay open.”
The government says it will spend $1.7 million more this year to add 10 physician assistants to the seven working in the province.
— with files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Vanessa Wright
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