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Tufts to launch physician assistant program

Tufts University School of Medicine plans to launch a master’s program in January to train physician assistants, the fourth such program in Massachusetts and the first affiliated with a medical school.

The 25-month program, which is in the accreditation process now, could begin accepting applications in May for enrollment of its first class of 30 students in January, said Richard Murphy, program director.

Physician assistants -- there are about 2,315 in Massachusetts -- are a growing field. In its most recent estimate, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics said it expects the profession to grow to nearly 104,000 by 2018, a 39 percent increase over what it was in 2008. And physician assistants are playing a growing role in health care as changes to state and federal laws put pressure on health care providers to serve more patients for less money.


“A lot of everyday health needs are not necessarily at the level that you would need a physician to treat,” Murphy said.

Murphy is a longtime faculty member and practicing physician assistant at Tufts Medical Center, and to start the program, he has had to resign a teaching role at Northeastern University, which has one of the oldest physician assistant programs in the country.

Rosann Ippolito, director of the Northeastern program, declined to say specifically how her school’s program would be affected by the opening of the Tufts program, but she said more physician assistants are needed.

“When you look at the projected physician shortage, the graying of America, the baby boomers, there really is an increased demand for PAs in the workforce, absolutely,” she said.

The challenge in expanding the field is finding doctors and practicing physician assistants to train them in the field, she said. Students in her program have clinical placements throughout New England.


Among the institutions that will train Murphy’s students are Tufts Medical Center, South Shore Hospital, Beverly Hospital, Cape Cod Hospital, Jordan Hospital, MetroWest Medical Center, and Cambridge Health Alliance.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.