Primary care is a critical backbone of any well-functioning health care system. Yet, underserved communities across New York State are facing chronic primary care physician shortages, perpetuated in part by limited access to primary care education, the high costs of educational medical equipment, and further exacerbated by the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.
It is crucial not only to address these gaps in healthcare for low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers but to ensure that providers and community services organizations strive to foster healthcare environments that are representative of the communities they serve. For example, this is a concern in Western New York, where only 11.4% of primary care physicians are people of color.
To better serve diverse communities in Western New York and in response to primary care shortages made worse during the pandemic, Canisius College in Buffalo started a new Physician Assistant (PA) graduate program to prepare practitioners to become nationally certified and state-licensed physician assistants. The admissions and curriculum put an emphasis on recruiting a diverse student body focused on underserved populations.
To support their efforts, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation granted Canisius College $767,500 towards their physician assistant graduate program to address primary care shortages and the lack of diversity among other health graduates in medically underserved communities in Western New York.
The master’s program, which runs for seven semesters, consists of both classroom and clinical training. The degree focuses on service learning assignments in underserved communities in Western New York, accepts students partially based on their commitment to continue serving underserved communities, and works to recruit and support low-income students of color. It provides students with early exposure to the social and medical issues that affect patient care and the healthcare outcomes of patients from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Frontline health workers define community well-being. By increasing the quantity and representation of primary care workers in Western New York’s most vulnerable communities, New York can emerge from the pandemic stronger and healthier than ever.