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Med School and JWU will collaborate, share resources

The Alpert Medical School and Johnson and Wales University’s new Center for Physician Assistant Studies will share resources, including some faculty and facilities, according to a March 27 University press release.

JWU’s physician assistant program, which is in its final stages of development before it receives an accreditation decision in September, will be housed in an 18,000-square-foot building only a block away from the Med School, according to the JWU website.

JWU invested in the center based on high demand for physician assistants in the area and because no other physician assistant programs currently exist in Rhode Island, said Jeffrey Senese, vice president of academic affairs at JWU. The program will be ready to accept its first students in September and will offer a two-year masters program to certify students as physician assistants through one year of classroom instruction and one year of nine clinical rotations, he said.

Philip Gruppuso, associate dean for medical education at the Med School, said he first met with Senese a year ago when he learned of the new physician assistant program. The Med School’s ongoing focus on interprofessional work sparked discussion about collaboration, he said.

“The agreement really just makes official the kind of planning for interprofessional education that we had already started doing,” Gruppuso said. There were no concerns raised by the agreement, but the documentation could be significant to JWU in the accreditation process, he said.

The agreement will encourage future collaboration in sharing facilities, bringing in guest lecturers, hosting interprofessional workshops and working together on grant initiatives, said George Bottomley, director of the Center for Physician Assistant Studies at JWU.

“It opens up those channels in an official way that (allows) for the flow of information between us and might create really interesting learning opportunities for our students,” Bottomley said.

The collaboration made sense because both the physician assistant program and the Med School have missions that are “geared towards training students who want to practice humanistic medicine,” Bottomley said.

“The nature of medicine is changing from being driven pretty much entirely by physicians to being a system that involves physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care professionals working as a team,” said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.

“There is a real synergy that occurs in the two disciplines,” said Edward Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences. “I think our students will benefit a lot from working with people who will come together professionally in the future,” he said.

Students from both the Med School and the Center for Physician Assistant Studies could jointly attend clinical classes to “begin the process of learning how to work as a team while they’re still students,” Schlissel said.

Med School students will benefit from access to the patient simulators — artificial patients with some robotic functions — which JWU will likely invest in, he said. The JWU facilities will also have global teleconferencing capabilities and lecture halls that could be available to the Med School, Wing said.

The Med School also hopes to benefit from some of JWU’s nutrition expertise, Gruppuso said.

JWU will in turn have access to the Med School’s clinical suite, which has 16 doctors’ offices with video cameras where students can practice routine clinical skills such as taking medical histories and doing physical exams on volunteer patients, Wing said.

The Med School building has “excellent facilities to teach clinical skills to not just physicians but other members of the health care team,” Schlissel said.

JWU also plans to pay some members of the Med School faculty to teach physician assistants in the program and to share with the Med School the costs of hosting special lecturers.

“For Johnson and Wales to be able to partner with a medical teaching institution that is so open to collaboration and interprofessional education is an incredible opportunity for us as we build,” Bottomley said.

Though there are benefits for both schools, “the entity that will benefit most from this sharing of knowledge is the patient,” he said. Patient safety has been shown to increase significantly when more than one health care provider serves the patient, he said.

The Jewelry District could also benefit from the collaboration, Bottomley said.

The increased pedestrian traffic and updated facilities in the area will be “terrific for the area around the Med School,” Gruppuso said. “We’ll start seeing more places to eat, and it will just gradually become a better environment for the students,” he said.

Going forward, Bottomley will help serve on the committee for the Med School’s new primary care and population health curriculum to fit physician assistants into the teamwork-based aspects of the curriculum, Bottomley said.

Since the physician assistant program will not officially begin until June 2014, “We have some great time to start intentionally planning opportunities for our students to work together,” Bottomley said.

Once the Center for Physician Assistant Studies has been accredited, the schools will begin planning some joint educational sessions, Gruppuso said.