Physician assistant students at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) are being recruited into the war on sexually transmitted diseases. The UAB School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) Surgical Physician Assistant program has received a $602,380 grant to train physician assistants to conduct STD/HIV risk assessments in a campaign to reduce the skyrocketing rate of sexually transmitted disease. The grant, from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services, is the first federal grant award in the program’s history.
“Physician assistants are ideal candidates to conduct risk assessments for STD/HIV,” says Patricia Jennings, MHS, PA-C, associate professor in the surgical physician assistant program. “We like to think of them as soldiers on the front line of health care. They tend to spend more time per patient than physicians and are in position to make the observations and ask the right questions to lead to an accurate assessment.”
Jennings says the program will train the next three incoming surgical physician assistant classes at SHRP in how to recognize STD/HIV risk behaviors in patients and how to counsel those patients to receive testing and treatment. At the end of the three-year study, the program will have created a curriculum that can be used to train other health professionals in STD/HIV risk assessment.
“Discussing sexual behavior can be awkward and uncomfortable, so sexual history is often neglected during routine doctor visits,” says Jennings. “We believe that preparing physician assistants to recognize risk behaviors in their patients and to be comfortable in engaging in frank, open communication about sexual behavior will lead to early intervention critical to prevention of further transmission of sexual disease.”
The grant is a collaboration between three schools within UAB, the School of Medicine, School of Dentistry and School of Health Related Professions. The physician assistant students involved in the training will see clinic patients with faculty mentors from dentistry and medicine.
“Increasing the frequency and accuracy of STD/HIV risk assessments is a key component in controlling the spread of sexually transmitted diseases,” says Dr. Michael Saag, professor of medicine and deputy director of the UAB AIDS Center. “This project will introduce a whole new set of health care professionals to that effort.”
The Surgical Physician Assistant Program at UAB trains allied health professionals who are qualified to assist the surgeon in all patient care activities. Graduates are certified as physician assistants and may work in a surgical or medicine subspecialty or in primary care practices.