UK Physician Assistant Studies program selected for second cohort of Prac-Ed-PA Pilot curriculum

This picture was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and mask mandate.

With the continuous rise in substance use disorders, health care professionals must be equipped to treat those suffering from this condition. The University of Kentucky’s Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) Program recently became one of 20 in the U.S. to receive the piloted Physician Assistant Education Association’s Expansion of Practitioner Education—a module-based substance use curriculum for second-year didactic students.

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky is the third-highest state in the U.S. for drug overdoses.

Passage of HB135 this year led to Kentucky PAs gaining prescriptive authority, opening the door for Kentucky PAs to prescribe certain types of medication assisted therapy (MAT) for patients struggling with substance use disorders.  Kentucky was the last state in the US to allow PAs prescriptive authority.  “We are happy to receive this curriculum in order to prepare our students for what is to come in the real world,” said Cheryl Vanderford, MPAS, PA-C, PAS assistant professor.  “Receiving this specialized substance use disorder training will help our students become transformative leaders in their communities.”

With topics covering tolerance, withdrawal, toxicology, stigma, and special populations, Vanderford says the module will perfectly align with the curriculum already practiced in the program.

“This module enhances and is cohesive with what we have already been teaching,” she said. “I believe it will truly prepare our students for their clinical rotations.”

Vanderford has an extensive background in the field having served in a residential substance use recovery unit for Veterans. Students enrolled in her behavioral health course have covered mental health topics such as substance use and the PRAC-ED-PA curriculum will add more specialized training to the curriculum.

In addition to what the module-based teachings will add in October, students will experience simulated psychiatric role-play while also learning medication-assisted therapy practices throughout their fall semester.

One of the main philosophies Vanderford teaches her students is the difference between what makes a “good” provider and a “great” provider. She hopes the new curriculum will provide students more exemplary skills and experiences.

“As providers, it’s important for us to practice with empathy and compassion. This is what makes the difference for our patients,” she said.