Controversy Surrounds Tuition for New Physician Assistant Program in Florida

Researchers speculate that Florida will continue to struggle against a statewide physician shortage, which has educators and politicians alike scrambling to offer up viable solutions.

According to the Robert Graham Center, Florida will need 38% or 4,671 more primary care physicians from 2010 to 2030 in order to meet the demands of an aging and expanding insured population.

But how will the state produce such a large number of future physicians?

On April 15, Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott approved a bill giving physician assistants the limited authority to write prescriptions for patients. This landmark decision could be the first step towards giving physician assistants a much greater scope of practice. By doing so, the state could potentially ease the physician shortage while simultaneously becoming more dependent on physician assistants.

Anticipating this growing dependency, the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) began developing a physician assistant master’s degree program in 2012. After finally gaining approval from the school board to open the program in 2017, the FGCU began investing tens of thousands of dollars into covering program costs for the accrediting commission, consultants, and new hires.

To cover program expenses, the FGCU settled on a $667 tuition fee for students. Yet, on July 1 a new law took effect that vanquished the university board’s ability to determine its own tuition rates. That power now lies in the hands on the Board of Governors, which may threaten the program’s very existence.

The Board of Governors fails to understand the need for another physician assistant program, explaining that other state universities already offer similar programs. And even if the FGCU’s program is green-lighted, the school will still have to convince the Board of Governors to authorize its tuition proposal.

Although the fate of the program remains uncertain, it appears certain that the ongoing debate over it will continue to create tension before the two boards until both sides arrive at a mutually beneficial compromise.

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