From the Director

Chelminski_Web2
Paul R. Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP
From the director: 

Thank you for your interest in the UNC-Chapel Hill Physician Assistant program.  Our program has drawn attention from across North Carolina and the United States, both for its potential to help improve health care throughout the state and for of its goal to enroll veterans with military health backgrounds. The genesis of our program is another testament to the great problem solving capacity of the people of this state and the institutions that serve them.

After World War II, UNC-CH played a crucial role in addressing the critical health care needs of the state. In the 1950s, the four-year medical school and UNC Memorial Hospital were established in direct response to the fact that citizens of the state were more likely than any other to be excused for military duty based on medical grounds during the war. This unwanted distinction was also a strong marker for other negative health outcomes in the general population. The people of North Carolina and their elected representatives were determined to rectify this.

 In the 1970s, the UNC School of Medicine was at the forefront in developing the Area Health Education System (AHEC). AHEC decentralized medical care and education in the state and brought it to geographic areas distant from the medical schools. At the end of the last decade, despite the expansion of health professional training in the preceding decades, it was recognized that there were still large unmet needs for general medical care in our state, especially among its neediest citizens. Simultaneously, it was recognized that veterans with medical training were an untapped talent pool who could help meet these needs if provided training for civilian medical careers. In response, the university developed the UNC-CH Physician Assistant program to meet these basic health care needs and harness this talent.

Planning for a physician assistant program at UNC-Chapel Hill goes back to 2009 when UNC-CH and the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg signed a memorandum of agreement to expand educational collaboration in a variety of areas and to create a physician assistant program. This collaboration envisioned a program that could provide a pathway for U.S. Army Special Forces Medical Sergeants to translate the skills and expertise gained through military service into a civilian career. Preparations began in earnest in December 2012 when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina made a $1.2 million commitment to the development of the program.  Subsequently, in 2015, the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust awarded $1 million dollars for rural health initiatives, scholarships, and veteran student programs. 

In February 2015, the program received approval from the UNC Board of Governors.  In the fall of 2015, the program was accredited to enroll its first class in January 2016. The first admissions cycle was a huge success. Our first class of 20 students includes nine veterans. Many members of the class have taken non-traditional pathways to health careers.  Non-traditional career trajectories are also reflected in our faculty. 

The UNC Physician Assistant program is the product of an exceptional public, private, and military partnership. We are grateful to our partners, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Kenan Trust and the U.S. military, for their vision and support.  The program embodies the great servant mission of UNC-Chapel Hill and is another testament to  a confidence that UNC-Chapel Hill will lead in helping to solve our state’s most pressing problems. The spirit of collaboration and commitment to excellence will be hallmarks of the educational process that will improve the health and wellbeing of the citizens of North Carolina. 

Sincerely, 

Paul R. Chelminski, MD, MPH, FACP

Professor of Medicine

Division Chief and Program Director, UNC Physician Assistant program