CRESTVIEW — A Florida International University physician assistant program could be welcoming its first batch of students as early as August 2015, the school's founding chair says.
Dr. Peter Gutierrez — who has lauded the opportunities that the north county offers to rural medicine students —said the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine is eager to "form relationships as early as we can" with Crestview, such as offering its students practical training at North Okaloosa Medical Center.
Physician assistant training programs are expanding throughout the country as demand for PAs increases, Gutierrez says. PAs can do many of the things a doctor can do, except issue prescriptions for narcotic medicines.
"The jobs are out there, and this area will have plenty of jobs that need to be filled," he says.
There are already "tremendous needs" in medical specialties including surgery, cardiology, OB/GYN and family practice, he says. Plus, "Insurance companies like PAs because they're cheaper."
The FIU program, which Gutierrez hopes will be accredited by March 2015, leads to a master’s degree. PAs can continue their training and receive an MD afterward.
Opportunities and needs
Former state senator Dr. Durrell Peaden, who has been working to bring the FIU program to Crestview for four years, says the program will provide certification for military medics separating from the service and wanting to become physician assistants.
"In bridging that gap, I think we have tremendous potential to give those kids from Eglin, Hurlburt and Whiting a chance to go into training right here, and make sure our local kids have an opportunity, too," Peaden said Sept. 15 during the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Development Series.
The Affordable Healthcare Act will increase the need for PAs, NOMC CEO David Fuller said, citing the 50 million Americans currently without health coverage who will be insured under the act.
"Right now there's not enough providers to take care of those people," Fuller said.
"This program (the Affordable Healthcare Act) is coming," Fuller said. "There's not enough providers. Being able to participate, we've got the experience. We can certainly partner together."
Asked by chamber President Dennis Mitchell what the community can do to facilitate bringing the FIU program to town, Gutierrez cited "a safe area for our students to be in and affordable housing," plus a medical facility to partner with.
"For what you describe, we sound like an ideal community," Mitchell said. "We fit all the criteria you just described."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.