Diversity drives PA health-care mission

9:21:37 AM CDT - Thursday, November 03, 2005

By Shannon Littlejohn

As part of the College of Health Professions' work toward fostering diversity, Rick Muma became a man with a plan.

This summer Muma, chair of the physician assistant program, became a man with a major grant from the Department of Health and Human Services/Health Resources and Services Administration.

Now the PA program is seeing the three-year $680,000 grant in early action at Healthy Options for Planeview, the Center for Health and Wellness, three area high schools and in program faculty.

Courtesy photo by Rob Le
Medical doctor Bryan Mann, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, examines an infant as part of a well-baby clinic, sponsored by WSU's physician assistant program at Healthy Options for Planeview, while PA students look on.
"The grant allows for a three-pronged approach," said Muma, explaining that the funds have allowed for the hiring of a new minority faculty member this year, a high school intervention program to targeted populations, and outreach in clinical settings.

Diversity issues are a big focus for national health organizations, Muma said, citing the February 2004 publication of the Institute of Medicine's report, "In the Nation's Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in Health Professions." That report affirmed with numbers what most working health professionals already knew:
The number of minorities in health care professions has not grown in proportion to the number of minorities in the population.

For instance, Hispanics comprise more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, but only 3.5 percent of the nation's physicians; one in eight individuals are black, but fewer than one in 20 physicians are black.

The critical need, according to the report, is to improve "access to care for racial and ethnic minority patients, greater patient choice and satisfaction, better patient–provider communication and better educational experiences for all students while in training."

The physician assistant program has contracted with Wichita's West, Southeast and North high schools and hired three student assistants, one at each high school.

"Actually they are co-op students working with the high school students as role models, mentors and tutors," said Muma. "And they are all pre-health professions students. Two are pre-physician assistant and one is pre-physical therapy."

Another student, pre-PA, has been hired to tutor pre-health professions students at the college.

In addition, the PA program has formalized its affiliations with the Center for Health and Wellness in north Wichita, where the new minority faculty member, Judy Garcia, can be found when not teaching at the college, and Healthy Options for Planeview in south Wichita, where there are now two PA clinics a week. One is limited primary care for 16- to 64-year-olds; the other is a well-baby clinic.

"Our diversity plan actually is a race-neutral effort to include socially and financially disadvantaged people, too," said Muma.

Healthy Options for Planeview is a microcosm of that kind of diversity. HOP, started as a class project in 1998 by physician assistant and public health assistant professor Toni Pickard, is a growing health and community care facility in the heart of Planeview, one of Wichita's most diverse neighborhoods nestled in a large area of low- to middle-income World War II housing.

"We're bringing in resources from the university, and that's across the university," said Pickard, who is HOP's founder and executive director. "The PAs are one of our newest partnerships."

Pickard said that there are 30 different languages spoken in Planeview, and that HOP handles the communication barrier by hiring "bridge" people who are bilingual. The facility also works with neighbors to determine needs. In addition, the outreach now extends to six other universities in the state.

Muma is pleased with WSU's clinic partnership, and he and his department are continuing to work with the high schools.

"We are now in the process of developing workshops for high school students to teach them about the hoops you have to jump through to be a successful applicant to college," said Muma.

"We're also going to be developing shadowing kinds of experiences for the high school students in clinic settings," he said.

Next spring students in the program will start talking about Healthy People 2010, a curriculum the PAs are teaching in high schools about health behaviors and indicators.

All of the efforts should help make the health professions' vision a little clearer: access to quality health care where shortages are eliminated, health disparities are overcome, prevention is emphasized and health outcomes are optimal for everyone.

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