Federal grant will address shortage of physician assistants trained in rural behavioral health services

Grand Valley's Physician Assistant Studies department received a five-year, $1.8 million federal grant to address the shortage of physician assistants who work in rural locations and are trained in behavioral health services.

Theresa Bacon-Baguley, professor and associate dean of research for the College of Health Professions, said the grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be used to train physician assistant studies (PAS) students, faculty and clinical preceptors to integrate behavioral health into their primary care services.

PAS faculty member holds tube in throat of mannikin while student in lab coat looks on
Nick Kopacki, assistant professor of physician assistant studies and site director for the Traverse City program, demonstrates a procedure on a mannikin in Traverse City while students look on. The program received a federal grant to train students, faculty and clinical preceptors in Grand Rapids and Traverse City to integrate behavioral health into their primary care services.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

It's a crucial need in rural areas, Bacon-Baguley said. 

"We equate rural to mean northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, but there are locations an hour from Grand Rapids that are rural," she said. "We are training our students, faculty and preceptors to recognize behavioral health issues before they become a crisis."

Bacon-Baguley said this HRSA grant is a natural extension of the federal grant that helped establish Grand Valley's satellite PAS program in Traverse City. That program will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. Nearly 80 percent of Grand Valley's PAS graduates, in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, practice in a rural setting.

Jill Ellis, associate professor and program director of PAS, said students can apply now for the rural behavioral health certificate course that begins in January. The project also provides a stipend for student housing. Over the five-year grant period, 90 students will be trained and a clinical coordinator will build new and enhance existing partnerships to expand the program's reach.

Andrew Booth, associate professor and department chair of PAS, said this grant makes Grand Valley's Physician Assistant Studies program unique.

"There are only a few other programs that offer this. Plus, it's a boost to a student's resume," Booth said. "Our students will be able to implement this training immediately when they graduate." 

PAS faculty members Martina Reinhold and Amanda Reddy are also part of the grant team.


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