Nov 13, 2023

Hope for the Future: Training More Physician Assistants at U of T

PA Program

DFCM’s Physician Assistant program is expanding to support patients and other care providers in an overstretched health system

PA Program Group Photo Outside on Campus

The role of a Physician Assistant (PA) is often misunderstood, even within healthcare. But those who have worked alongside these ‘physician extenders’ understand the immense value of PAs for both patients and other care providers, particularly in an overstretched system.

From taking histories and performing physical examinations to triaging and treating patients, PAs can help speed up wait times and are often able to spend longer supporting patients who need it.

“In the face of family physician shortages, the importance of team-based care has never been more apparent,” says Dr. Jeffrey Golisky, a family doctor working in Midland, Ontario and director of the BScPA program offered through the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) at the University of Toronto. “PAs have never been more in demand, and we are expanding our training program to help meet this need.”

Despite challenges across the healthcare system, there has been no shortage of applicants for the DFCM’s PA program, which received nearly 1,000 applications for the intensive two-year program. The program plans to nearly double overall enrollment by September 2024 with a focus on recruiting in diverse and underserved areas, including Scarborough as well as rural and Northern Ontario communities.

This August, the PA program welcomed 48 students—16 more than the usual cohort size. This group will benefit from a host of new opportunities designed to prepare PAs to practice in interprofessional primary care teams.

This winter, PA students will have the opportunity to experience patient-centered family medicine first-hand, partnering with a second-year medical student and DFCM family doctor to support cancer screening and immunization catch-ups in underserved and equity-deserving communities in the City of Toronto. This Family Medicine Community Longitudinal Leadership Enrichment Opportunity (FM CLLEO) is intended to showcase the relationships family physicians build with patients over time and inspire both MD and PA students to consider a career in family medicine.

In addition to these exciting changes within the program, external bodies have contributed greatly in terms of recognizing the importance of PAs in Canada. The PA program successfully completed the accreditation process in April 2023, highlighting its development and accomplishments in ushering in and educating yearly cohorts of physician assistants. Additionally, Ontario is enroute to becoming the fourth Canadian province to regulate its PAs.

In 2021, legislation was passed to regulate Ontario PAs under the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, who have been working closely with the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants to achieve this by 2024. This move shows a profound dedication toward these medical professionals who contributed greatly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and remain an integral part of a health care system facing primary care shortages.

“There is much to look forward to as the class of 2025 begin their studies with DFCM,” says Dr. Golisky. “I am grateful to work with such a dedicated and skilled team and I am continually impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of our students.”

“The PA program and the PA community at large provide hope for the future of health care.”

Click here for further reading on physician assistants in Canada.