In Colorado, we developed a new approach to help solve our clinical site placement problem. It worked for us, and we think it might work for you, too.
Why We Did It
You might be surprised to learn that Colorado has a problem with clinical site placements. You think to yourself, “How can a state of that size have a problem? Aren’t there only two PA programs in the state?”
We may only have two PA programs, but we are also home to one MD program, one osteopathic medicine program, three nurse practitioner programs, one anesthesiology assistant program, and numerous nursing programs. We are all contacting the same sites and preceptors, and we all have very similar pressures and demands — increasing class sizes, more programs nationwide, additional accreditation requirements, and decreasing clinical site availability.
One particular health system site, Salud Family Health Centers, felt the brunt of this need and demand from the health professional programs in Colorado.
The history of student placements at the nine Salud Centers dates back decades. Each program would arrange rotations with its own site contact. Unfortunately, this would sometimes result in double or triple bookings, causing confusion and an increased burden on the site.
Rather than continue to overwhelm the sites with requests — which was resulting in the centers removing some of their placements — an innovative solution was presented.
How We Did It
In 2011, leaders from Colorado health professional programs met with the medical director of Salud and proposed the creation of a centralized schedule. He was onboard with the idea and gave us the contact names for all of the Salud Centers along with the number of student slots available for each center, the total number of slots available for all programs, and their scheduling priority.
With this new system, there is only one designated contact person at each Salud Center. These contacts work with the medical director to create the schedule of available slots based on the academic year.
Every fall, Colorado health professional programs come together for a meeting with the medical director of Salud. We gather new information (e.g., sites that should have Spanish-speaking students, whether the site wants one PA, or one PA and one MD student) and establish new parameters for the schedule for the upcoming academic year. Shortly thereafter, the programs meet to collaborate on site placements and create the new schedule. All health professional programs agree that:
- The schedule is final, and, if any changes need to occur, the person requesting the change will communicate with all the programs included in the schedule.
- If a program does not need a slot, that availability will be communicated to all programs included in the schedule.
This process has been a win-win for both the health professional programs and the clinical sites. The schedule allows programs to plan their placements further in advance and collaborate with the other programs to determine what works best for all learners’ needs.
Salud has benefitted by having one main contact in charge of the schedule for all of their sites and all of the programs. In addition, the parameters for student placement are specific and agreed upon by all programs, so there are no exceptions or additional requests beyond what is given.
Whether you’re part of a PA program or another health care program, we are all faced with the same clinical site challenges. Rather than competing, we have used our resources and created a collaborative approach. In the future, we’re hoping to implement the same process at other sites in the state.
Many thanks to Christa Dobbs, MPAS, PA-C, from the Red Rocks Community College PA program, and Marcy Patel, MBA, from the University of Colorado MD program, for their contributions to this article.