Congress passes laws and physician assistants treat patients, but on November 20, the two found convergence as Sen. Richard Blumenthal met with University of Bridgeport Physician Assistant Institute (UBPAI) faculty and students to address issues related to student physician assistants, patients and healthcare providers.
Over the course of the private, one-hour meeting, faculty and UBPAI students said that PA education must be more affordable to all students, and they sought Blumenthal’s support for pending bills, such as the Physician Assistant Education Public Health Initiatives Act.
If passed into law, it would increase Stafford loan borrowing limits for PA students, who currently are prohibited from borrowing as much as students earning other medical degrees, like PhDs. Stafford loans have lower interest rates than private loans and other perks.
Student Marissa Weeks ’19 said that if Stafford loan limits were raised for PA students “I would have $5,000 in outside loans, not $55,000.”
Weeks had invited Blumenthal to campus to discuss PA education and related issues after she won a 2018 Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Student Health Policy Fellowship. The PAEA program selects 14 top physician assistant students to travel to Washington, D.C. each fall in order to learn how to advocate on behalf of the PA profession. Weeks said she invited Blumenthal as a follow-up to her training.
I’m really excited that he came and gave us his time,” Weeks said. “My goal is to find solutions to some of the issues we face, such as student loans, shortages of clinical training sites for PAs, research funding, and increasing diversity within the profession.”
Blumenthal agreed that student-loan debt impacts physician assistants and many other students. He pointed to his record of support for bills that lower student loan rates and for loan forgiveness in exchange for civilian public service. “We all stand to benefit from what you do and what you learn,” he said. “That’s why I think these bills are very important.”
UBPAI Director Theresa Horvath encouraged the approximately 30 students who met with Blumenthal to continue the conversation with other lawmakers. “You can go to Washington and meet with an aide. It’s quite an experience,” she said.
Blumenthal concurred. “When you’re advocating for the public interest, it has special force because we know you’re there because you believe it. You’re there because you made the effort. There’s something very refreshing about that,” he said.
College of Health Sciences Dean Carol Papp, DNP, praised Weeks for organizing the event. “It’s amazing to have students participate at this level. I really congratulate Marissa on her effort and dedication to improve the PA practice. This is really applying what she learns at the school in the community,” Papp said.