• Duke University School of Medicine and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina collaborate to allow the physician assistant program to have its own identity and space
  • Expansion will lead to increased access to primary care services by educating more students
DURHAM, N.C.– Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) has leased its former downtown Durham headquarters to the Duke University School of Medicine’s physician assistant (PA) program, in an effort to improve access to health care and expand primary care services for.
The agreement, announced today, represents a collaborative effort by the medical school and the state’s largest health insurer to foster the critically needed growth of primary care medicine in North Carolina, where the ratio of physicians to population is expected to drop by 21 percent by 2030.
“The physician assistant profession was created at Duke 40 years ago to respond to a societal need for access to care,” said Justine Strand, M.P.H, director of the physician assistant program. “The impending physician shortage, increasing burden of chronic disease and the graying of America make the need for PAs greater than ever. This new facility will allow us to graduate more PAs to meet that need.”
The move will make possible a potential expansion from the two-year PA program’s current enrollment of 56 students per class. It also stands to significantly boost primary care in North Carolina, since 40 percent of Duke’s PA graduates stay in the state to work.
“As a company that’s been around for 75 years, we believe strongly in our responsibility and our commitment to helping the communities in which we work and live,” said Bob Greczyn, president and CEO of BCBSNC. “Our collaboration with Duke will help to increase access to primary care services and improve the health and wellness of North Carolinians. That’s a combination of resources that we all benefit from and one that has to be a priority for our state.”
Relocation of the PA program from the main medical center complex also puts the students and faculty from the nation’s oldest physician assistant program within walking distance of Duke’s community-based clinics.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Strand said. “The new facility will give us space with our own identity and signature, something we’ve never had in our history. We’re deeply appreciative to Blue Cross for its vision and leadership for the role of primary care in North Carolina.”
Duke officials said the agreement underscores the university’s role in supporting downtown Durham’s renaissance and follows on the recently announced lease at the Durham Centre.
BCBSNC’s two-story brick structure at 800 S. Duke St. dates to the early 1960s and has been vacant since the fall of 2006. Following renovations to the 32,000-square-foot building, the physician assistant program will relocate in January 2009 as the 15-year lease begins.
The Charlotte-based Duke Endowment will help support the costs associated with expanding the physician assistant program, including the hiring of additional faculty.
Duke’s PA program, a perennial presence atop U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, began in 1965 and graduated its first students in 1967. The late Eugene A. Stead Jr., M.D., then chairman of the Department of Medicine, believed physician assistants could increase consumer access to health services by extending the time and skills of the physician.
Today physician assistants are a well-established part of the health care scene, taking patient histories, performing physical examinations, ordering laboratory and diagnostic studies and developing patient treatment plans.
“The creation of the PA role is just one of Duke’s innovations in health care,” said Lloyd Michener, M.D., chairman of the Department of Community and Family Medicine, which includes the PA program. “We are expanding the program and seeking efficient ways to redefine the healthcare team in response to the rapidly growing demand for healthcare in North Carolina."
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to nearly 3.6 million members, including approximately 825,000 served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For 75 years, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at bcbsnc.com.