‘Educating and utilising physician associates is important now more than ever’
The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the important role physician associates (PAs) play in modern medicine, according to the newly appointed Director of the Physician Associate Programme at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).
RCSI’s PA programme was launched in 2015 and its graduates work across surgical and medical services, with a number staffing some of the hospital testing facilities.
“With the increasing demands on healthcare systems during the Covid-19 pandemic, educating and utilising physician associates is important now more than ever,” said Prof Lisa Mustone Alexander, who joins the RCSI following four decades at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GW Medical School or SMHS) in Washington DC, United States (US).
“I look forward to working with my colleagues at RCSI and within the wider Irish medical community to grow and expand not only the RCSI PA programme, but the profession throughout the country,” added Prof Alexander, who was among the fifth cohort of PAs entering the George Washington programme in 1977.
She later taught in the programme and twice served as its director.
Prof Alexander is also a member of the International Academy of PA Educators and provides consultation and expertise to faculty from PA programmes worldwide.
A national leader in the US, she has served as President of both the Physician Assistant Education Association and the Physician Assistant Foundation.
As a Fulbright Senior Specialist to the Rwandan Ministry of Education from 2009–10, Prof Alexander led a feasibility study to determine whether a PA model could meet Rwanda’s extensive post-genocide health workforce needs.
Following the study, she collaborated with ministry officials and faculty at the Kigali Health Institute in the University in Kigali, Rwanda to develop a curriculum to train a cadre of clinical officers – the East African nation’s equivalent to PAs.
The programme has since become part of the national University of Rwanda’s academic portfolio and trained more than 200 clinical officers.
Prof Alexander’s doctoral research focused on the evolution of the identity of the PA profession.
Her work identified the notion of the physician champion, or leaders who coordinate improvement efforts between fellow clinicians and other members of the healthcare team.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have Prof Alexander join us,” said RCSI Chief Executive Prof Cathal Kelly.
“She brings a wealth of experience with her, and I wish her every success in her role in leading such an important programme for the university.”
There are now more than 135,000 PAs practising in the US, and the United Kingdom has more than 35 programmes graduating in excess of 750 PAs annually.