Integrative Physician Assistant Program at Southern California University

by John Weeks, Publisher/Editor of The Integrator Blog News and Reports

Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCU) has announced a first for an integrative health academic center. In September 2016, the Whittier-based multidisciplinary institution will begin a physician assistant program “to provide critical support for physicians across the integrative healthcare industry.” SCU has been granted provisional status to offer the program with the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

John ScaringeIn the program announcement, SCU's president, John Scaringe, DC, EdD, (pictured right) explained the institution’s interest in the program. "A primary goal of introducing this program is to prepare today's students with the skills necessary to contribute to the health system of the future. As the nation's healthcare system becomes more integrative, this new program will help various segments of the industry to work together in a more cohesive and effective way."

Under Dr. Scaringe’s predecessor and the university’s President Emeritus, Reed Phillips, DC, PhD, the institution added a program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Presently, SCU also offers a certificate program in Ayurveda, training in massage therapy, and advance training in sports chiropractic. The university has also made known an interest in offering a naturopathic medical program.

Comment: This announcement is exciting for the field, though somewhat concerning. The excitement is simple. Think of the potential value of a P.A. who is educated in this robust, integrative environment to integrative patient care. Imagine complementary and integrative practitioners increasingly as “collaborators” in resolving the nation’s opioid and pain issues as urged in the new National Pain Strategy from the US Department of Health and Human Services. A physician assistant who is knowledgeable and experienced in working interprofessionally with the set of professions being educated at SCU could be a remarkable arbiter of quality integrative pain care.

At the same time, the announcement conceals a significant bet on the future. How many “physicians across the integrative healthcare industry” are presently in the need of the “critical support” of an “integrative P.A.”? Presently, any number is guesswork. Since this “integrative P.A.” profession hasn’t existed, and integration strategists have not typically turned to a model of up-training a P.A., the need is hard to assess. Yet worse come to worse, the P.A. can land a job in regular medicine and begin quietly urging integrative options for patients.

That said, under Scaringe, SCU may fairly be assessed as setting the right ducks in a row for the positive scenario to win out. First, Scaringe – like Phillips before him – is a long-time board member and now an officer of one of the nation’s most long-functioning interprofessional organizations, the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health (ACIH). As such, he is working to steep himself and his organization in rich interprofessional culture. Through the involvement at ACIH, SCU’s faculty member Robb Russell, DC has presented at the Institute of Medicine Global Forum on Innovation in Health Professional Education- as captured in an appendix in this report. The IOM – recently renamed the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, is rarified air yet, for any chiropractor.

Scaringe has upped the ante beyond any of his colleagues on the university’s commitment to interprofessionalism. He has twice sent teams to participate in the multi-day working Institutes of the Interprofessional Educational Collaborative. This organization was founded by the councils of colleges for MDs, nurses, pharmacists, osteopaths, dentists and public health professionals. SCU is the only academic institution in the integrative health space to have made such a commitment. In addition, SCU has expressed its commitment to an interprofessional and integrative future as a top-level backer of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) that last year kicked off a ground-breaking interprofessional fellowship.

Now consider the additional dynamic if and when the university offers education in naturopathic medicine. If any graduating P.A. can be prepared for the future SCU and Scaringe have envisioned, a graduate from this historic Master in Science Physician Assistant program will be.