Chapel Hill, N.C. — The University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina said Monday that they are collaborating to create a physician assistant master’s degree program designed for people who have served as medics in the military.
Blue Cross pledged $1.2 million over the next four years to help UNC establish the master’s curriculum and hire program staff. Part of the grant will provide scholarship funds through the Medical Foundation of North Carolina to assist Special Forces medical sergeants who have transitioned out of the military.
“It’s a simple equation: We need more physician assistants in North Carolina, and our veterans want the jobs," Blue Cross President and Chief Executive Brad Wilson said in a statement. "When these medics return home, they’ll have the opportunity to take their experience in the field and use it to advance their careers and continue to care for patients.”
The Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg will provide input on the program's development, officials said.
“We know that the majority of our Special Forces medical sergeants want to continue their careers in medicine to help improve the health and lives of our citizens, but many are unsure of what path to take when they transition out of the military,” Surgeon Col. Peter Benson said in a statement. “This program gives our veterans the education and opportunity to lend their unique health care and leadership skills to benefit citizens across North Carolina.”
If approved by the UNC Board of Governors, the two-year degree program aims to enroll its first class of students in 2015.
The U.S. faces a deepening shortage of doctors and primary care physicians, with some estimates showing a national shortage of about 150,000 physicians and 65,000 primary care physicians by 2020. Almost 1 million North Carolinians live in areas with a shortage of health care professionals.
“Physician assistants play a vital role in the primary care setting, and our medically trained soldiers return to us well-equipped to meet the needs of under-served communities," Dr. William Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine and chief executive of UNC Health Care, said in a statement. "North Carolina, in particular, provides many opportunities for our veterans who want to pursue a long-term career in medicine.”