Aligning Physician Assistant Education for Interprofessional Oral Health Practice
Since the release of Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General in 2000, primary care educators and clinicians have been encouraged to embed interprofessional Oral Health (OH) competencies across education programs. Since 2006, PA national organizations and OH champions have worked to ready the PA workforce for interprofessional OH practice.
The current study, a partnership between the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health (NIIOH) and the Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health (CIPCOH), provides a longitudinal perspective on OH integration in PA programs. The PA profession was one of 14 surveyed to assess quantity and quality of OH integration, including barriers to and facilitators of change.
An Internet-based, 19-item survey was distributed between February and May of 2017 to all PA education program directors. Survey questions covered a range of topics and were comparable to those used in similar studies in 2008 and 2014. Of the sample of 244 program directors, 102 responded (42%). There was greater inclusion of OH curriculum in 2017 than in 2014, both in terms of the number of programs including OH education as well as the breadth of their curriculum. Most respondents (82%) agreed it is important for PA students to address patients’ basic OH care issues. Almost all (96%) indicated their program included specific non-clinical curriculum in OH, an increase over the 78% of directors reporting similar findings in 2014. In addition, a 2016 study conducted by the NIIOH and the Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) surveyed a national sample of 2014 PA graduates.
Findings suggest that those who experienced OH education during training were 2.8 more likely to integrate OH competencies into practice. Recent studies confirm that the collective efforts of PA national organizations to equip PA faculty to integrate interprofessional OH core clinical competencies help prepare the PA workforce for new integrated models of OH practice. Existing strategies appear to be sustainable and effective in expanding OH curriculum content and may impact the practice of PA providers. These strategies serve as a model for advancing interprofessional OH competencies across other primary care professions.