Hawaii physician assistant program now taking applications

KAILUA-KONA — The MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program announced Tuesday that it is now accepting applications from those interested in joining the 2020 entering cohort at its new Hawaii campus in West Hawaii.

It’s touting the new program as a big opportunity to address a critical need in the state’s health care workforce.


“We see that a PA program here will definitely help to meet both the primary care needs and access to health care,” said Betty Stewart, director of the Hawaii campus and international development for MEDEX. “But also likely — especially on neighbor islands — stabilize some of the specialty care.”

The 27-month master’s program marks an opportunity to improve residents’ access to care, give health care professionals more avenues to train and practice in their communities and offers local clinics and hospitals a new source to tap into for locally trained talent.

The preliminary response to the program has been promising.

Stewart said after a website about plans to bring MEDEX to Hawaii went live, they received interest from more than 100 potential applicants throughout the state looking for more information.

“So we anticipate once we open this up in July that there will be applicants that are ready to go,” she said.

Those interested in attending the program starting in fall 2020 can start applying right away, and both the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) and MEDEX supplemental application must be submitted on or by Sept. 1.

Classroom space for the Hawaii program has been identified in the region although details aren’t available as they’re not yet finalized. While MEDEX administrators fully expect the Kona campus to be ready to welcome students by fall 2020, Stewart said it’s possible opening could be delayed if a site visit by the program’s accreditor identifies any unaddressed needs.

To ensure students are still able to begin their coursework, all applicants should identify on their application a second possible campus to attend — Seattle or Tacoma — in the event of a delay. Regardless of whether the Kona campus’ opening is delayed, all students’ clinical rotations will still take place in Hawaii.

The program will take approximately 16 students for its 2020 entering cohort, Stewart said, with subsequent cohorts expanded to 24 students. Stewart said the program will only be open to Hawaii residents.

There are some very limited exceptions to that, Stewart said, such as former residents looking to return home or people with “very, very strong ties to Hawaii,” but she emphasized that the program is being developed “solely for the state of Hawaii.”

That rationale, she said, is to help meet the state’s health care workforce shortage.

The 2018 Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment said the state is short 513 full-time physicians, a number that rises to close to 800 when island geography and unmet specialty-specific needs are taken into consideration.

Stewart said they believe bringing the physician assistant program here and targeting it to local residents can be a part of addressing the crunch.

“We’re not saying that it’s the entire solution,” Stewart said, “but we believe it’ll be part of the solution to the need that we see there of both retiring physicians and those that are leaving practice.”

The first year of the program is the program’s didactic, or classroom, year, which runs from September to May.

Students that year learn basic clinical skills, such as how to conduct a patient history and physical as well as some technical skills.

Year two of the program is the clinical year, in which students do rotations throughout the state.

All students spend four months in family medicine/primary care with additional clerkships in emergency medicine, general surgery, behavioral medicine and in-patient internal medicine.

Stewart said the program also requires all students to do a rural or under-served rotation.

A competitive applicant for the program will be a Hawaii resident with at least 2,000 hours of paid health care experience and a bachelor’s degree.

The physician assistant profession, Stewart said, “is really one of second career,” Stewart said, for professionals who already have some health care experience, such as paramedics and EMTs.

She said they accept nurses “quite frequently,” and MEDEX’s mainland campuses often attract candidates with military experience as combat medics and hospital corpsmen.


They’ve also taken students with experience in other fields of health care, including social workers and mental health counselors.

Questions about the program can be directed to mxhawaii@uw.edu.