University of New Mexico’s PA  Program: Educating Students to Provide Primary Care in Rural and Medically Underserved Communities 

UNM PA students persevered through their training amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, students from the class of 2021 are shown completing their surgical scrub class at UNM Hospital.

Unique Characteristics of University of New Mexico’s PA Program

The UNM PA program’s mission is to educate students to become exemplary providers of primary care in rural and medically underserved communities of New Mexico. Beginning with our mission and continuing through our admissions process, clinical rotation placements, and the relationships we maintain with our alumni, we strive to support primary care in New Mexico’s marginalized communities. In addition, we fine-tune our curriculum around the needs of our community, recently adding Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) training to our curriculum so our graduates are eligible to apply for a DEA waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid addiction.

Our Program’s Impact

Each decision we make is made with our mission and communities in mind. We’ve had great success in admitting students who support our mission, and approximately half of every class chooses to practice health care in primary care, rural, or underserved areas upon graduation. These successes, along with the need for providers in our state, have resulted in our governor awarding our program fundings to assist in program expansion and preceptor recruitment. Sharing our story may provide ideas to other programs on how they can ensure they live by their missions and consider the impact they and their students can make beyond the program. 

Our Surrounding Community

The University of New Mexico is located in the central region of New Mexico. Of the state’s 33 counties, 32 are classified as fully or partially medically underserved, 16 are classified as rural, and 15 are classified as frontier. New Mexico communities are primarily small, rural, and diverse. Numerous language, cultural, and access barriers demonstrate the critical need for competent, equitable, accessible, and evenly distributed health care. 

Fun Fact About New Mexico

New Mexico is home to unique Native American communities. There are 23 Indian tribes located in New Mexico: 19 Pueblos, three Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation. Each tribe is a sovereign nation with its own government, life-ways, traditions, and culture. 

This article is part of PAEA’s Program Showcases, which also includes webinars. Learn more about the series here.