ISU receives $1.48M grant to address rural health disparities

Local News

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Indiana State University has received a grant of more than $1.48 million from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to support primary care physician assistant training for rural and medically underserved areas of Indiana. 

The grant will fund a five-year project called Preparing Physician Assistants for Rural Practice: Sycamore Physician Assistant Rural Care Program (SPARC). The grant project is the result of collaboration between ISU’s Office of Sponsored Programs, the Physician Assistant Studies program, and health professional programs including physical therapy, nursing, social work. Liz Metzger of Sponsored Programs and Nicole Heck of Physician Assistant Studies have been instrumental in securing the highly competitive federal grant.

“The SPARC grant will leverage an interprofessional faculty team of physician assistants, physical therapists, social workers, and nurses to prepare students to practice medicine in rural and underserved areas of Indiana,” Dr. Caroline Mallory, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said. “This is a fine example of our commitment to improving the health of Indiana residents.”

The primary goal of SPARC is to increase the number of physician assistant graduates who work in these communities. It has been designed to bolster and sustain mental health and pain management services in these areas, said Dr. John Pommier, Professor and Chair of the Department of Applied Medicine and Rehabilitation. 

Pommier, along with Doug Stevens, Assistant Professor and Director of the Physician Assistant Program will lead the project. 

“The grant’s focus is to create specialized modules for academic and clinical application, strategically recruit highly sought physician assistant students, and develop and sustain relationships with clinical sites,” Pommier said. “Through this project, we are sharing expertise with rural health care providers and at the same time providing our students with deeper curricular and experiential exposure in primary care.”   

Efforts will focus on 14 counties in west-central Indiana. These counties are predominantly rural and low-income and exhibit higher incidences of mental illness, addiction, substance abuse, smoking, and obesity. In addition to providing services to the clinics in rural areas, the project also aims to raise community awareness of opioid abuse and other mental health-related issues. 

ISU created the physician assistant program in 2011. Its mission is to “create a student-centered educational environment that engages individuals to become compassionate, competent physician assistants who possess the clinical skills to contribute positively to the dynamic health care needs of rural and underserved populations.”

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