As the demand for physician assistants is expected to increase by 38 percent over the next seven years, Yale University is launching the nation's first online-only PA program, according to The Advisory Board Company.
The program will help train the growing numbers of students becoming PAs. The field has seen a 219 percent increase in 10 years, with one out every five PAs entering the in-demand primary care field, according to The Advisory Board.
One of goals of the Yale program is to encourage more PA students to practice in their local communities, which are often rural and in need of clinicians, according to Program Director James Van Rhee.
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Yale has run a traditional PA program since the 1970s, and its new online program will cost the same to attend—$35,653 for each of the first two years.
Van Rhee said it will offer the same quality as its in-person counterpart. Online classes will be capped at 12 students, and software will let lecture attendees ask questions and collaborate in real time, he said.
However, the program and others like it, raise concerns about whether virtual preparation is enough.
A recent Babson Survey Research Group survey found that 69 percent of high-level college administrators thought online courses required greater discipline on the part of students to be successful, according to The Advisory Board. Additionally, 45 percent said it was more difficult to retain online students compared with traditional learning settings.
Sebastian Thrun, an online education pioneer and founder of for-profit education company Udacity, said he was disappointed with a pilot program of online courses at San Jose State University in 2013.
"We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished,” he said. “We have a lousy product."
"Not everything can be taught online," Van Rhee said.
Yale’s online students will come to campus at the beginning and end of their first year for "intense immersions" to learn clinical skills such as stitching a wound, he said.
Students will also have the option of doing clinical rotations at Yale New Haven Hospital, Van Rhee said. At the end of their clinical year, online students will again visit the campus to complete tests.Yale is partnering with 2U Inc., a firm that helps nonprofit colleges develop online programs.
If Yale University's program is accredited and receives regulatory approval, it would join several other top universities in offering online health-related degrees. Georgetown University offers an online master’s in nursing program, and George Washington University offers an online master’s degree in public health.
Healthcare providers increasingly must rely on a team of non-physician clinicians to meet growing primary care demand, according to The Advisory Board.
Hiring new providers is only part of the solution, the group said. Research has found organizations must integrate nurse practitioners, PAs and other practitioners into a collaborative care team.