New medical school program in Sacramento aims to address health care worker shortage

SACRAMENTO — Medical professionals say there’s a critical shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers in the United States. Now, one university is trying to address the crisis by opening a new school in Sacramento.

A patient whose heart stops and needs an airway tube inserted – it’s an emergency scenario students can now train for in a new school at the University of the Pacific (UOP) campus in California’s capital city.

“It really simulates how we’ll be taking care of our patients,” said Alejandra Diaz, a UOP physician assistant student.

Diaz is one of the students training to become a physician assistant in the 27-month-long master’s degree program.

“It is intense,” she said of the program. “We’re here all day, basically.”

Physician assistants can examine patients, perform procedures, and prescribe medication in collaboration with a medical doctor. The university says they are a way to help solve backlogs in the healthcare system.

“There is such a shortage of healthcare providers,” said Nicoleta Bugnariu, the dean of UOP’s School of Health Sciences. “People don’t have care or have to wait for care.”

The new $18 million facility allows UOP to double the number of physician assistant students in the school. Two thousand people have applied for just 90 slots.

“The expectation is really high,” Bugnariu said.

It’s equipped with a surgical suite, exam rooms, and the latest technology in teaching tools like a life-size virtual human body that can be dissected by students.

“What it is is a simulated cadaver system,” said Tracey Del Nero, a UOP professor.

The campus is located in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood and administrators are hoping many of their future students will come from this and other historically disadvantaged communities.

“Our school is really built on the model of intentionally recruiting from the community and returning the students in the community,” Bugnariu said.

UOP is also expanding its campus across the street where it will open a new school of dentistry facility this summer.