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Physician Assistant program hopes to draw in healthcare to rural areas, Cascade Meadow to expand for learning space

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -

It's not a new problem.

Rural America continues to face a serious shortage of doctors and accessible health care.

But a new multi-million dollar expansion project in Rochester might help through the training of more physician assistants.

The collaboration is between Mayo Clinic, Saint Mary's University and University of Minnesota Rochester.

Come January of next year, Cascade Meadow will be even bigger, with the addition of classrooms and labs that students in the last two years of the program will use to get hands-on experience.

This approximately $4.4. million expansion is made possible by a donation from Jack and Mary Ann Remick, of Rochester.

The proposed program is a comprehensive 3 plus 2 physician assistant master's degree program.

Students will enroll and begin their freshmen year, and spend three years doing general studies, as well as basic sciences, chemistry, and microbiology at their school (either Saint Mary's University or University of Minnesota Rochester).

Then, the final two years, the students will come to Rochester for hands-on learning at Mayo Clinic and Cascade Meadow.

Students will earn a bachelors degree after year four from their respective university, and then after a year of intensive on-site training for year 5, they'll get their master's degree as a physician assistant from the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences.

Dr. Michael Silber, the Dean of Students at Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences, and also a neurologist, said there's a shortage of about 150 physician assistants at Mayo Clinic at this very time.

And P-A's can do just as good a job as an actual physician.

"There are many things, that for instance, a primary care physician does and does well, but we don't need a primary care physician for that. Physicians Assistants and Nurse Practitioners can do a lot of the work that primary care physicians do. And actually, patients almost prefer it, because they give a little more time, they're very committed to their patients, and And the physician serves as the leader of the team," said Dr. Silber.

As of now, the first group of students in the program will begin in Fall of 2019.

Meaning, the first graduates of this five year program will be in the year 2024.

John Pyle, who is the Executive VP and CEO of Saint Mary's University said he's extremely excited for this new collaboration.

He also said it's going to be a very valuable partnership.

“We'll be developing in conjunction with Mayo Clinic and really, they'll be helping us select and recruit the students the first three years, so they can really early identify those key students who they think will be a key fit for opportunities at graduate study,” explained Pyle.

Construction for the expansion project at Cascade Meadow is on slate to begin this spring. 

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