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UW-Madison may expand physician assistants program

Lauren Chapman, of Fond du Lac, had stitches removed by a UW physician assistant in 2015 at UW Hospital. 

UW-Madison is exploring a partnership with another University of Wisconsin System campus to address a shortage of physician assistants in rural areas, the university announced Wednesday.

Under a program offered through UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, students would earn a degree through UW-Madison’s physician assistant program by taking classes at UW-Platteville.

Wayne Weber, dean of UW-Platteville’s College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture, said U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show the need for physician assistants is increasing by 29% in Wisconsin.

UW-Platteville has about 300 biology majors, more than half of whom express interest in health care and come from a rural community.

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The need in rural areas is even greater, according to Tara Streit, president of the Wisconsin Academy of Physician Assistants. She said one in every five physician assistants practicing in a rural area is approaching retirement age. Burnout in this setting is also higher than those working in an urban environment because rural physician assistants see, on average, 13 more patients per week.

“This is very much in high demand,” Weber said in the university’s announcement. “We’re strategically positioned for this. We’re in southwest Wisconsin, which is rich in rural culture. We are also part of the tri-state region, which is a big advantage for us.”

He called the Tuesday announcement the “first step” in expanding the program.

If approved, the UW-Madison program at Platteville would involve two years of study, with the flagship campus providing administrative oversight.

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