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UC Davis enhances nurse practitioner, physician assistant program to offer master's degrees

New program aims to increase number of desperately needed primary-care providers statewide

Courtesy of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing/UC Regents
UC Davis Health System February 7, 2013
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Already, a majority of UC Davis nurse practitioner and physician assistant graduates go on to work as primary-care providers in underserved areas and with hopes of further increasing these rates, the program will offer master's degrees beginning with classes that enroll this summer. 

"UC Davis has a rich legacy of training culturally diverse primary-care providers, especially for rural areas of California," said Klea Bertakis, chair of the UC Davis School of Medicine Family and Community Medicine Department, which has housed the program for the past 40 years. "We needed to find a way to continue that and sustain the program. It was clear the program needed to provide its graduates master's degrees."

Looming health-care reforms, shortages of providers and a growing, aging population combine to create unprecedented demand for primary-care providers throughout the nation, especially in rural and underserved areas. Additionally, about 6 million California residents are expected to gain access to health care through national health-care reform when it is fully implemented in 2016.

Over the past 40 years, the program graduated 1,800 nurse practitioners and physician assistants, with 67 percent of graduates working in underserved areas. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of graduates work in primary care, compared to much lower national averages of between 30 and 40 percent.

Bertakis said the new master's-degree programs are the result of a year-long study of approaches to refine the successful program and meet future educational needs of nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Currently, the program offers graduate certificates to both the family nurse practitioner and physician assistant tracks. Master's degrees are required to earn a nurse practitioner license and students achieved this through a unique agreement with California State University, Sacramento. This, however, required students to apply and pay fees at both universities.

UC Davis leaders also needed to prepare for accreditation changes that require master's degrees for physician assistant programs by 2021. Already, 92 percent of the nation's physician assistant programs offer master's degrees.

The move to master's degree programs doesn't dramatically impact program length, Bertakis said; however, the curriculum will change drastically to provide graduates enhanced skills. Part of the enhancement is a transition of the program from the UC Davis School of Medicine to the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.

According to Associate Vice Chancellor and founding Dean Heather M. Young, this move enables the program to be part of the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Graduate Degree Program, an interprofessional graduate program led by more than 40 faculty from nursing, medicine, nutrition, statistics, pharmacy and public health.

"The new curriculum will provide a broad education that includes advanced skills in understanding complex problems and generating solutions, understanding how health systems and health care works and how to improve quality, how to lead teams and deal with the business aspects of care including informatics and reimbursement," Young said. "Graduates will be better prepared to work as leaders of health-care teams and learn methods to continually critique and improve their care, provide care that is evidence-based, and to establish systems of care to address population health."

Enrollment is also expected to expand as part of the program revisions. Currently, the program admits about 60 students per year. By 2017, enrollment is expected to increase to 80 students admitted per year.

The nurse practitioner and physician assistant program first opened as a family nurse practitioner program at UC Berkeley School of Public Health in 1970. It moved to UC Davis in 1972 to take advantage of the clinical training capabilities at the medical center. From 1972 to 1982, the program offered a physician assistant program through a collaborative agreement with Stanford University. The program continued at UC Davis with only the physician assistant track until the partnership with Sacramento State University launched in 1991. When Stanford University closed its physician assistant program in 2008, the UC Davis program remained as the nation's only combined program. Additionally, it is the only physician assistant program offered in the University of California system.

About the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis

The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis was established in March 2009 through a $ 100 million commitment from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the nation's largest grant for nursing education. The vision of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is to transform health care through nursing education and research. Through nursing leadership, the school discovers knowledge to advance health, improve quality of care and health outcomes, and inform health policy. The school's first programs, a doctoral and a master's degree program, opened in fall 2010. Additional students and programs will be phased in over the next decade. For more information, visit http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/nursing/

Related Link: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/publish/news/newsroom/7446