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Touro College and NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation Announce Partnership to Educate Physician Assistants in Psychiatry

New PA "Behavioral Health Option" to Expand Career Opportunities, Meet Mental Health Needs of the Community

NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwired) -- 06/03/14 -- To help meet the growing need for mental health professionals, Touro College and University System and New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) are joining to educate physician assistants (PAs) with a focus in psychiatry.

The new initiative is designed to help address the growing shortage of psychiatrists in the United States and the tri-state area, which is expected to worsen exponentially over the next few years. According to the Association of PAs in Psychiatry (APAP), currently there are approximately 1,000 psych PAs in the U.S., and 55,000 psychiatrists -- numbers far too low to meet the future demand.

The shortage requires innovative training that will produce an adequate number of clinicians to keep up with the demand for mental health services and address the limited access to care for thousands of patients suffering from mental illness.

Beginning with a pilot initiative in summer 2014, Touro's School of Health Sciences will offer a new "Behavioral Health Option" that includes a four-month rotation in psychiatry at HHC public hospitals. This goes beyond the core curriculum and rotations currently offered to master's level students enrolled in Touro's Manhattan PA program.

"As one of America's largest educational providers in the health sciences field, Touro will promote a vigorous educational experience in psychiatry that will yield PA graduates who are prepared to diagnose, treat and interact with patients and their families," Touro President and CEO Dr. Alan Kadish said. "HHC is the major provider of behavioral and mental health services in New York City, with a cadre of expert and compassionate health care providers working at public hospitals and community health centers in every borough. HHC will make an excellent partner for Touro's new psychiatric PAs and will link our students to an extensive health network within the tri-state area."

"HHC's 11 acute care teaching hospitals and network of ambulatory care sites serve as a training ground for hundreds of future healthcare professionals. We welcome the opportunity to support a specialized career track for physician assistants with expertise in caring for New Yorkers with mental health needs," said HHC President Dr. Ram Raju. "By working under the supervision of our seasoned behavioral health professionals, the Touro College students will have a unique and meaningful experience and get the support they need to make their clinical education valuable. These PAs in training will get hands-on-experience in caring for patients and learn to practice with compassion and cultural sensitivity in one of the most exciting healthcare environments in the United States."

Dr. Louis Primavera, dean of the School of Health Sciences, added that the Touro-HHC initiative is believed to the first of its kind, at least in the tri-state area, if not nationally. "Many programs are offering residency programs and specialty tracks as an option that can be integrated into a curriculum, but not many are available in psychiatry and behavioral medicine -- certainly not at the master's level," he said.

Jorge Roberto Petit, M.D., president and founder of Quality Healthcare Solutions Group and formerly associate commissioner at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has been hired to teach in the behavioral health option at Touro. Dr. Petit has held numerous academic appointments in psychiatry at such prestigious institutions as Mount Sinai Hospital and School of Medicine, and New York University Medical Center, as well as hospital appointments at Bellevue Hospital Center, Kings County Hospital, and North General Hospital. He received his medical diploma at University of Buenos Aires and completed his postdoctoral training at Mount Sinai and Columbia Presbyterian/N.Y.S. Psychiatric Institute.

PAs are healthcare professionals certified to practice medicine as part of a health care team with physician supervision. They perform a range of duties, from basic primary care to assisting in major surgery. They can prescribe medication, perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, and order and interpret lab tests in collaboration with physicians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PAs will be the second fastest-growing health profession in the next decade (after home health aides), with a projected growth of 39 percent.

Experience to date shows that PAs in psychiatry often work in behavioral health facilities and psychiatric units of hospitals, where psychiatrists may be in short supply. In private practices, PAs do initial evaluations and maintenance check-ups for patients on medications. In correctional facilities, PAs help meet the need for psychiatric service and medical care. They also work on community treatment teams, in emergency departments, and at Veteran Administration and Medicaid facilities.

Students enrolled in Touro's behavioral health option who complete the PA curriculum and clinical experiences will perform day-to-day psychiatric evaluations and management tasks in in-patient, emergency and out-patient settings for psychiatric disorders; identify and triage medical/medication complications, changes in conditions, psychiatric and overlapping medical emergencies; and provide psychotherapeutic methods to improve outcomes for common mood, anxiety and psychotic illnesses.

As part of their clinical education, Touro PA students will have the opportunity to work at any number of the 11 acute care hospitals operated by HHC that offer the full range of hospitalization services, including surgery or treatment for an illness or chronic disease.

For further information about Touro's new PA behavioral health option, please visit http://www1.touro.edu/shs/pany/pany.php or call 646-795-4510.

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