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Physician assistants in high demand

Annual Report - Winter 2013

By Madylan Eskridge

Physician assistants (PAs) are critical members of the cancer care team — licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. And as the population of older adults increases, more are needed.

“We must work hard now for future success in recruiting and retaining PAs,” says Maura Polansky, program director of MD Anderson’s physician assistant education and a PA in the Gastrointestinal Center.

Elizabeth Reinhardt (left) jumped at the opportunity
to be part of MD Anderson's physician assistant
fellowship program, working with Maura Polansky, who 
established the fellowship 10 years ago.
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

The institution employs 230 PAs, more than any other hospital in the country. However, the worldwide incidence of cancer is expected to increase 75% by 2030, according to a May 31, 2012, report in The Lancet Oncology, meaning cancer care providers will be in high demand.

Polansky studies national PA career trends and continuously enhances and expands her educational programs accordingly. Knowing where to direct these efforts is half the battle, but Polansky has a vision.

“My knack for recognizing opportunities and inefficiencies allows me to increase the quality of our educational offerings,” she says.

Ten years ago, she established the only accredited oncologic PA fellowship program in the nation. Aligned with MD Anderson’s mission for science-driven patient care, fellows complete clinic rotations in a wide range of specialties while learning to interpret research material and understand its importance in patient care.

Approximately half of the fellows are hired at MD Anderson upon completion of the fellowship — another way Polansky, winner of the institution’s 2012 Educator of the Year Award, addresses the increasing demand for PAs.

Fellows fill current, future needs

By Madylan Eskridge

Often, physician assistants are willing to travel great distances to take advantage of the unique training offered through MD Anderson’s fellowship. New York native Elizabeth Reinhardt is the most recent example.

After earning her master’s degree in physician assistant studies at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., she was ready to fulfill her dream of helping people with cancer, a passion that grew from her childhood experiences volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House.

The opportunity to have specialized training in oncology made the decision to leave home for Houston an easy one when Reinhardt was accepted in 2011.

“What sets Maura Polansky apart is her enthusiasm for making educational resources readily available to all PAs, including students, fellows and employees, through student training programs, a one-of-a-kind fellowship, and continuing education courses,” she says.

Reinhardt recently accepted a PA position in MD Anderson’s Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology, where she spent a six-month rotation during her training.

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