UW-Platteville launches collaborative physician assistant program

Student studying

After several years of planning, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s collaborative Master of Physician Assistant Studies program is officially open to applicants, with the first cohort scheduled to begin in summer 2023. The UW-Madison wisPACT@UW-Platteville program will allow UW-Platteville students to earn a degree through UW-Madison’s nationally-recognized Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, while remaining on the UW-Platteville campus to complete the coursework.

“We’re really excited about this program,” said Dr. Wayne Weber, dean of UW-Platteville’s College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. “This is a strategic initiative to increase access to health care education opportunities in Southwest Wisconsin and the Tri-State area, growing the health care professional workforce in high need rural areas in the region.”

Plans for the program date back to the inaugural Health Care Summit UW-Platteville hosted in 2017, where educators, health care administrators and regional practitioners joined to discuss shortages of health care providers in underserved rural areas. According to a 2018 report issued by the Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce, less than 10% of Wisconsin physicians practice in a rural area, even though one-fifth of the Wisconsin population lives in such areas. The same report indicated that a statewide shortfall of primary care providers is anticipated by 2035 – a shortage that will be more acutely felt in rural areas.

This new program, which will be classified as a distant campus of the UW-Madison program, will initially consist of 10 new students, with plans to incrementally grow to 14. Provisional, priority acceptance will be given to students earning a Bachelor of Science from UW-Platteville. While students are not required to major in biology, biology majors have the option of participating in the accelerated 3+2 option, completing their education one year sooner.

The Master of Physician Assistant Studies is a two-year program with one year of classroom learning and one of clinical rotations. All of the classes will be held in-person on the Platteville campus or live-streamed from Madison. With a focus on training the future rural health care workforce, clinical rotations will be predominantly in the hospitals and clinics in Southwest Wisconsin. The future director of the wisPACT@UW-Platteville campus, Joel Hill, has nearly 12 years of experiencing in managing distant PA education.  

“After seeing how critical our northern wisPACT program has been, and the impact that our graduates have had on patient care there, I look forward to being a part of the wisPACT@UW-Platteville initiative to increase medical care in new rural areas of need,” said Hill.

Administrators and faculty developing the program indicate that there is strong evidence that educating and training students in rural areas near where they grew up will make them more likely to practice medicine in rural areas.

“What I really appreciate about my time at UW-Platteville is that my mentors not only put a lot of time and effort into a solid education, but also had an appreciation and respect for the ‘bigger picture,’” said Joe Stader, a physician assistant in Lancaster, Wisconsin, who graduated from UW-Platteville in 2015 and from UW-Madison’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program in 2018. “With practicing medicine in a rural community, I have come to appreciate the variety and the challenge that comes with it. I learned early on there is no ‘perfect’ way to practice medicine, and working in the rural setting allows for some more autonomy and creative problem solving.” 

The wisPACT@UW-Platteville program will be housed on the newly renovated first floor of Ullrich Hall on the UW-Platteville campus, featuring state-of-the-art facilities that include a streaming classroom, Neurophysiology Lab, a full exam room suite, quiet study space and student collaborative space.  

Virginia Snyder, UW-Madison PA Program Director, adds, “The distant campus at UW-Platteville is an exciting, needed and mission-aligned initiative. The UW-Madison PA Program looks forward to training PAs to serve the Tri-State region. We feel it will have broad and significant impact on meeting health care access shortages. UW-Platteville is an enthusiastic, collaborative partner and we feel fortunate to have this opportunity.”

*The University of Wisconsin-Madison has applied for approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) to establish a distant campus in Platteville, Wisconsin. The campus anticipates matriculating its first class in May 2023, pending approval at the September 2022 ARC-PA meeting.

For more information on how to apply, visit https://www.med.wisc.edu/education/physician-assistant-pa-program/how-to-apply/