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Physician assistant and family nurse practitioner students practice resuscitation skills in a simulation lab.

The demographics of health care continuously shift. As people age, they manage an increasing number of chronic conditions, yet the pool of primary care providers continues to shrink.

The master’s-degree programs for aspiring family nurse practitioners and physician assistants at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis focus on the preparation of new primary care providers, as well as the development of leadership skills in graduates who will meet these demands and lead health care teams.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports the number of licensed nurse practitioners in the United States has doubled in the past 10 years. The number of physician assistants is expected to increase 38 percent by 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We offer the only combined programs in the nation and tailor our curriculum to provide a broad education that includes advanced skills to solve complex problems, knowledge of quality and safety, an understanding of how healthcare systems work and their business aspects,” explained Gerald Kayingo, director for the school’s physician assistant program. “Our graduates are better prepared to work as leaders of health care teams with the ability to establish systems of care to address population health.”

A recent study reported that nearly 80 percent of people who visit nurse practitioners and physician assistants have longer consultation periods and are equally or more satisfied with the quality of care than a visit with a physician.

Over the past 40 years, more than 1,850 nurse practitioners and physician assistants graduated from UC Davis with 67 percent of those graduates working in underserved areas. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of graduates work in primary care, compared to significantly lower national averages of between 30 and 40 percent.

“Physician assistants and nurse practitioners have historically viewed each other as very different, and to a certain extent, as competitors,” Kayingo said. “Thanks to visionary faculty who understand both worlds, we shift the paradigm and infuse the various perspectives and experiences of these two professions.”

The programs are led by an interprofessional team of more than 55 faculty members from disciplines including nursing, medicine, health informatics, nutrition, biostatistics, pharmacy, sociology and public health. The programs are both master’s-degree programs, which enable students to learn beyond the basics of clinical preparation to develop a deeper understanding of health care and health systems.

“The nurses in the nurse practitioner program all have clinical experience under our belts, but the physician assistant students bring a very broad perspective to the table,” said Sara Marchessault, 2016 family nurse practitioner master’s-degree graduate. “It’s phenomenal to see the mixture of skills and expertise that you have all together in one room.”

The physician assistant and family nurse practitioner programs focus on developing providers who are prepared to deliver care in areas where it’s needed most, thus expanding access for a growing population. Elizabeth Rice, director for the nurse practitioner program, said students who desire meaningful relationships as part of their education should look closely at UC Davis.

“The very nature of this program is based on relationships and multiple perspectives,” she said. “We want students who are thoughtful about the types of experiences they want to have as part of their education.”

Relationships, Rice said, are a common thread throughout all of the school’s educational and research programs. She added that relationships are also at the foundation of each of the school’s core values of leadership development, interprofessional education, transformative research, cultural inclusiveness and innovative technology.

“Whether a nurse who’s been in acute care for 10 years or a recent college graduate, our program is for students from all walks of life,” Rice said. ““At UC Davis, students will find faculty who are committed to their growth and truly want to see them succeed beyond their degrees.”