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Dalhousie announces first physician assistants program in Atlantic Canada

By Joe Thomson Aug 3, 2023 | 1:29 PM

Minister of advanced education Brian Wong (centre), Minister of Health and Wellness Michelle Thompson (third from right), and Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine Dean Dr. David Anderson (second from right) at today's announcement (Photo by Joe Thomson).

Dalhousie University is about to become the first school in Atlantic Canada to offer a physician assistants master’s program.

The announcement was made today in collaboration with the Nova Scotia provincial government, who is investing $5.6 million dollars in the program’s development along with $1.5 million in annual funding. It will be one of just four programs of its kind in the whole country.

Physician assistants help streamline the healthcare system by taking a significant amount of work off doctor’s plates. There are currently seven physician assistants working in Nova Scotia, two of which are part of an orthopedic pilot program, and Health Minister Michelle Thompson says the feedback has been tremendous.

“The people working on the frontlines, have great ideas and they know the healthcare system inside and out. One thing I heard from physicians was, ‘Reduce red tape. Let us focus on the things that only physicians can do,’” said Thompson.

Having more physician assistants should do just that. They’re able to make diagnoses and outline treatment plans, assist with surgeries and perform minor surgical procedures, prescribe medication, and much more.

Dr. David Anderson, Dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine, said the program will get more physician assistants working in Nova Scotian communities, fast.

“One of the exciting opportunities about having physician assistants is it is an intensive, two-year training program, and then the graduates are able to work,” said Dr. Anderson.

As the province continually searches for ways to improve Nova Scotian’s access to effective and efficient healthcare, Thompson said physician assistants may be able to collaborate with other professionals at primary healthcare clinics. She said Nova Scotia health has been in talks with the operators of those clinics about whether they’d like to add the skillset of a physician assistant to their practice.

“That expression of interest is underway now. And we do expect that there will be a place for physician assistants and folks who want to include them in their primary care teams,” said Thompson.

Dalhousie is now accepting applications to the program. The first classes are expected to get underway in January with 24 students.


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