Physician assistants are intended to support doctorsAalen University, Ostalb Clinics and Ostalb District Office initiate new medical study program

From, the left: Prof. Dr. Harald Riegel, President of Aalen University, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Solzbach, Chairman of the Board of Ostalb Kliniken, Dr. Joachim Bläse, Ostalb District Chief Executive, and Prof. Dr. Andreas Ladurner, founding father of the new Physician Assistant degree program at Aalen University. Photo credit: Aalen University | Tim Burkhardt

Th, 12. May 2022

The shortage of doctors is increasing, and nurses are also desperately needed. This problem will only get worse in the future. In order to counteract this development, Aalen University, the Ostalb District and the Ostalb clinics are jointly taking the initiative: the new Physician Assistant study program will start at Aalen University in the 2022/23 winter semester. The practical training takes place in the Ostalb clinics. In an interview, the District Chief Executive Dr. Joachim Bläse, Prof. Dr. Harald Riegel, President of Aalen University, Prof. Dr. Andreas Ladurner, Dean of Studies for Health Management at Aalen University, and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Solzbach, CEO of Ostalb Clinics, explain what the new offer is all about, what the course of studies involves and how it will benefit the region.

Why is it important for Aalen University to further expand its health management offerings?

Prof. Dr. Riegel: We are a university for the region and assume social responsibility. We have a shortage of qualified staff throughout the healthcare system. With our new range of courses, we train specialists in a modern and highly attractive job profile, both for clinics and for medical care centers and practices. For us as a university, the study program is also a good way to increase the proportion of women, as we have found that our offers in the health sector appeal to many women who might otherwise not have found a suitable major at our the university.

What does a Physician Assistant do?

Prof. Dr. Ladurner: Physician Assistant is a health profession that relieves and supports doctors. In Germany, this is a fairly new job description that has existed in the USA for some time and is now also being established here. Physician Assistant is a very versatile profession: After graduation, physician assistants can work in all areas of health, for example in emergency care, in the operating theater or in family doctors´ offices.

What is the difference to a doctor and how can physician assistant support in medical care?

Prof. Dr. Solzbach: The study program is structured in a similar way as medical study programs and includes many of these modules. The later activities are between a nurse and a doctor. However, a physician assistant does not replace them, but supports them. This is an additional employee who helps to combat the shortage of skilled workers and, for example, takes anamnesis, takes blood, or documents processes. It is a very attractive profession that we want to get people excited about. This would help everyone – from the clinics to the family doctors´ offices. That would be a great support, especially for us in the Ostalb Clinics. In the ideal case, the doctors would then have more time for the patients and their needs.

What is the content of the study program? Where does the practical training take place?

Prof. Dr. Ladurner: The study program includes the typical medical-theoretical subjects such as physiology, pathology, and pharmacology. In addition, there are the typical practical subjects such as examination methods in surgery or internal medicine. And getting to know special areas such as dermatology or ear, nose, and throat medicine. The curriculum adheres to the specifications of the German Medical Association. In addition, there are highlights such as clinical psychology, gender medicine or public health at Aalen University. Finally, this is supplemented by medical management or subjects such as medical terminology, documentation, or e-health. All theoretical parts take place at the university, the practical parts at our cooperation partner, the  Ostalb Clinics. The two institutions are linked very closely.

How does the cooperation between the university and the Ostalb Clinics work?

Prof. Solzbach: It is important that the students get to know daily clinical practice as early as possible. Similar to the practical year after studying medicine, they have to gain experience in internships in the various departments of the clinics. We also have many doctors who can give lectures as lecturers at the university. This is a win-win situation.

Prof. Dr. Riegel: To become a physician assistant, you need to study for eight semesters instead of seven. This is because the practical part is even higher than in our other study programs. Each semester has an additional practical part, in which the students work in the Ostalb Clinics. The Ostalb Clinics are within walking distance of the university. Both sides can only benefit from this proximity, and we want to use this advantage. In addition to the doctors who can be used as teachers, together with the district administration, we want to enable so-called shared professorships, which work both in the Ostalb Clinics and teach at our university.

What is the significance of the new study offer for our district?

Dr. Bläse: For us as a district, the new study program is important because, on the one hand, it is about the future viability of the Ostalb district. This includes an excellent university with innovative study programs. The health sector is an important profile element for the future. I am all the more pleased that Aalen University is driving this development forward and exploring new subject areas. On the other hand, future medical care is a major challenge for our district. In these professional fields we are struggling massively for young people. And experience shows that someone who has been trained here or has worked here before is also happy to stay. We want to actively promote these connections.

Can physician assistants compensate for the shortage of doctors?

Dr. Bläse: We need many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to tackle the overall challenge of healthcare in the future. A job like the physician assistant has been missing so far and is very interesting for young people due to the academization. If we can already train the specialists in the region, that's a big advantage that will definitely help us.

What requirements do applicants have to meet?

Prof. Dr. Ladurner: Studying to become a physician assistant is a great opportunity, e.g., for high school graduates or technical high school graduates who are interested in medicine. Previous professional training is not necessary. Of course, applicants with nursing vocational training who would now like to add a degree are also very welcome. Or interested persons who would like to work in the medical field. At the beginning we will offer 24 study places; we then want to further expand the offer over the next few years. Interested persons can apply now.