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First Person

Dr. Harris Berman on Tufts’s new physician assistant program

The medical school is the first in the state to offer a physician’s assistant degree.    

The 25-month physician assistant training program launched by Dr. Harris Berman and Tufts will begin in January.

Dina Rudick/Globe staff

The 25-month physician assistant training program launched by Dr. Harris Berman and Tufts will begin in January.

My background is in starting not-for-profit health plans. I started and ran THE FIRST HMO IN NEW HAMPSHIRE BACK in 1971, and that’s where I had my first exposure to physician assistants. A real problem is that we just don’t have enough people doing primary care out there. And part of the problem is that WE DON’T PAY THEM ENOUGH. If Medicare and Medicaid decided they were going to take the same pie and divide it separately, giving less money to specialists and more to primary care doctors, it would attract more people into the field. While health reform did some to reward primary care people better, it wasn’t a major shift. You’ve got to double the amount of money they’re going to make if you’re really going to attract people’s attention.

We see the physician assistant program as a supplement to what primary care doctors do. So if we can help primary care doctors, pediatricians, internists, organize A TEAM OF PEOPLE TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR PATIENTS, they could see many more patients. We think that by teaching medical students while they’re right in medical school how to work with an assistant and how they can work better together than working alone, we can create a model where many more patients can be seen by the doctors we’re producing.

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There’s A HUGE DEMAND FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS. When we came up with this program, we went around to the various hospitals to see if they would be interested in training these people. And every one of them said they would be delighted to do it, because they hoped that after they trained them, these people would want to work there and help them solve workforce problems.   — As told to Rachel Deahl

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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