Medical staffing

Arrowhead Regional program trains physician assistants
Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/13/2010 09:11:54 PM PST

COLTON – By week six of her training at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, physician assistant Lauren Vento is tending to far more medical challenges than she ever imagined.

Recently, she drained the fluid out of a woman’s badly swollen knee.

The good news for the patient was there were no signs of infection.

The good news for Vento is that she’s done a procedure which she wouldn’t have been allowed to do at her former hospital in Connecticut.

Vento is a part of the inaugural class of five fellows to start a 14-month training program for physician assistants at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s emergency department.

The program, one of just a handful in the country, is designed to give physician assistants a specialization so that they can take more of the burden off of physicians.

By 2015 – one year after the full benefits of health care reform is scheduled to kick in – the shortage of physicians in the Inland Empire will reach about 5,000 and in California grow to 17,000, said Dr. Rodney Borger, chairman of the ARMC emergency department and one of the founders of the new training program.

“The fellowship program we’ve developed is one effective approach to helping alleviate the shortage,” Borger said.

This is the first ARMC program for physician assistants to train in emergency medicine at the medical center.

But there are similar PA training programs in obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and orthopedics.

Eight fellows are training in these programs.

The first post-PA fellow will graduate from the general surgery program next month; the orthopedic specialty program will graduate two in March.

There were 30 applications for the five spots in the emergency room training program; two of those selected were from the eastern United States and three from California, Borger said.

Students receive a stipend during their training period but it is for an amount significantly less than what they could make working as a physician assistant.

Vento said among the lectures she thought were extremely informative was one on electrolytes and the various causes leading to the their disturbance.

While most of the training program involves closely supervised, hands-on training, there is a classroom element to the program.

Maryland resident Natalie Meulenberg left a physician assistant job, where she primarily helped manage patients’ blood pressure levels for a cardiologist.

“It was less than exhilarating,” she said.

She entered the fellowship program to play a larger role in diverse medical challenges.

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