Health professions degree programs to expand workforce in critical areas
Future University of Arizona Health Sciences students will have new health care career opportunities thanks to that the Arizona Board of Regents approving three new degree programs.

University of Arizona Health Sciences
April 15, 2022


a pregnant woman
New degree programs for physical therapy, physician assistant and nurse-midwifery aim to address health care workforce shortages.

The University of Arizona Health Sciences received approval from the Arizona Board of Regents to launch three new degree programs aimed at addressing ongoing health care workforce shortages in the physical therapy, physician assistant and nurse-midwifery fields.


Kevin C. Lohenry
Kevin C. Lohenry Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

Each of these new programs in the allied health fields will create an expanded pipeline of skilled professionals to provide greater access to care for patients in Arizona's diverse rural and urban communities. All three programs are independently seeking accreditation before they will be available for student enrollment.

Nearly 95% of Arizona's physician assistants practice in an urban setting, according to the Center for Rural Health at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. The physician assistant program will be designed with an emphasis on rural primary care medicine. Medical Spanish will be offered as part of the curriculum.

"We have a very unique opportunity to build a program that fits what our state needs," said Kevin C. Lohenry, University of Arizona Health Sciences assistant vice president for interprofessional education and director of the physician assistant program, which will be housed in the College of Medicine – Tucson. "Health care providers today come from all the intersectionality of the world. I would like to replicate that here and build collaborative relationships with community partners in Southern Arizona so that we can reflect the communities we want to serve."

Physician assistant students will take graduate-level courses and get clinical experiential training to become highly competent health care providers.


Christine Childers
Christine Childers Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

Arizona has fewer physical therapists per 10,000 residents than the national average. Additionally, Tucson's population of people over 65 is higher than the national average, resulting in additional clinical needs in cardiopulmonary, geriatrics and neurology. Currently, there is a lack of physical therapists with advanced certification in these areas, said Christine Childers, founding director for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

"Our goal is to increase the quantity of quality physical therapists who serve in the Tucson community," Childers said. "Local clinicians have told me there is a provider problem, not a patient problem. Now we will have the opportunity to train physical therapists right here in Tucson where they can train in the community and hopefully stay a part of this community."

The physical therapy program also will be housed in the College of Medicine – Tucson, though students will work with other UArizona Health Sciences colleges for an interprofessional education experience. Through established clinical affiliations and service-learning experiences, students will be prepared to provide critical health care services to local underserved communities.

The physical therapy and physician assistant programs will be joined at UArizona Health Sciences by a third new degree program, nurse-midwifery, which will be housed in the College of Nursing. The American College of Nurse-Midwives describes its members as "primary care providers for women throughout the lifespan, with a special emphasis on pregnancy, childbirth, and gynecologic and reproductive health."


Erin McMahon
Erin McMahon Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states: "The needs of the U.S. adult female population during the next decade cannot be met by OB-GYNs, family physicians and general internists alone." Additionally, access to prenatal and obstetric services is decreasing in rural areas due to closures of obstetric units and rural and critical access hospitals. In some rural areas, almost half of women travel over 30 minutes for maternity care.

"There are counties in Arizona with very few or even no obstetric providers, and people are driving great distances for care," said Erin McMahon, director of the nurse-midwifery program. "The nurse-midwifery program wants to attract students from around the country, but our primary goal will be to attract registered nurses from within our Arizona communities to attend our program and stay in their communities to continue to provide care where they are."

These degree programs are being developed using New Economy Initiative funding provided to the University of Arizona and allocated to UArizona Health Sciences.

A version of this article originally appeared on the UArizona Health Sciences website.