PA student trains with another PA student.

Chapman Physician Assistant Program Receives $5 Million to Serve Under-Resourced Communities in Orange County The CalOptima Health Workforce Development Fund grant helps highly qualified OC students to become health care professionals in medically disadvantaged OC communities.

At its April 4 board meeting, CalOptima approved the recipients for the first round of CalOptima Health Workforce Development Fund grants, with Chapman University among the recipients. 

“CalOptima Health recognizes that our mission to serve members begins with having a strong health care workforce to deliver quality care,” said Michael Hunn, CEO of CalOptima Health. “The challenge of health care worker shortages at organizations across Orange County drove CalOptima Health’s landmark community investment in a $50 million Provider Workforce Development Initiative. Our grants to Chapman University and other educational institutions will tackle the problem at its roots by funding training and education for tomorrow’s caregivers for the Medi-Cal population. Closing workforce gaps and building provider diversity is the foundation of health care equity for our members.”

Chapman’s $5 million grant will fund scholarships for academically qualified Orange County students from under-resourced backgrounds to attend Chapman’s physician assistant (PA) program. This will create a pipeline of local PAs to work in communities with less access to primary care and create new clinical training sites to ensure longevity in the recruiting and training of future health care professionals in Orange County.

“This recognition from CalOptima, through the Health Workforce Development Fund, reaffirms Chapman’s central role in helping shape the future of health care in Orange County. It also underscores Chapman’s commitment to our local community and to creating opportunities for a world-class health care education to talented students from our own backyard,” said Chapman President Daniele C. Struppa.

Other grant recipients include UC Irvine’s Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing, CSU Fullerton’s Auxiliary Services Corporation, Coast Community College District, Santiago Canyon College, Orange County United Way and Concordia University. 

Chapman’s program is the only one focusing exclusively on recruiting and training primary care practitioners.

The demand for physician assistants in Orange County has significantly increased over the last decade and is projected to continue growing on a national scale. Janeen Hill, dean of Chapman’s Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, which houses the university’s PA program, said the county will need about 40% more physician assistants over the next decade to meet the health care needs of the community.

“The CalOptima grant represents a pivotal opportunity for Chapman University to not only broaden the diversity of our health care workforce but also to address the pressing need for health care professionals in underserved areas. We are not only dedicating resources to the future of health care but also cultivating a dedication to community service and ensuring fair access to care,” Hill said.

CalOptima is a public health plan that provides health care coverage to more than 800,000 low-income residents of Orange County.

The CalOptima Health Workforce Development Fund is a grant program that supports the training and education of health care professionals who serve CalOptima members and other low-income populations in Orange County. The fund aims to increase the supply, diversity and quality of the health workforce in the region.

Logo for CalOptima




Creating a Workforce Pipeline for OC Health Care 

Shortages of health care professionals in Orange County are significant. According to a 2020 report by the California Health Care Foundation, almost one third of Californians live in an area without enough primary care professionals. 

These shortages, coupled with regional disparities in access to health care, present the county with immediate and long-term challenges threatening the overall health of its citizens. Poor health will continue to exert financial burdens in under-served communities. 

To meet these complex health care needs, pathways must be created to produce a pipeline of individuals to enter the health care professions.

The CalOptima grant will enable Chapman to expand and diversify the Orange County PA workforce by providing scholarships for low-income students. It will further address the critical need for health care practitioners in under-served areas by requiring these tuition-supported students to work in medically under-served Orange County communities for the first five years post-graduation.

 Expanding Clinical Education Sites

The most significant barrier to growing the health care workforce in Orange County is the limited availability of clinical sites to train future providers. For example, each PA student must rotate through nine clinical experiences including family medicine, women’s health, behavioral health, pediatrics, cardiology and emergency medicine, among others. Without sufficient, appropriate sites, accrediting organizations will not approve program expansion, which is critical to growing the health care workforce.

This shortage of care providers is particularly urgent in California, due to a state decision that prevents the development of clinical sites in other states. This hinders colleges and universities from expanding graduate health programs. 

“With the CalOptima grant, every Chapman PA graduate who received a full-tuition scholarship for PA education will become a clinical education instructor in a medically under-served area for the Chapman University PA program,” Hill said. “The aim of this is to increase the number of clinical education sites in under-served areas, helping to counteract California’s limit on developing clinical education sites across state lines.”

Robust and Enduring Support for Students to Provide Local Health Care 

Recruiting and providing scholarships for OC students who have faced adversity to become physician assistants began with Chapman’s Simon Scholars Physician Assistant program. Eligible students who go through the program ​​are supported by a scholarship that enables them to earn their master’s  in medical science degree with the opportunity to graduate in two years and join the profession ranked No. 2 in best health care jobs in 2023 by U.S. News & World Report.

In February, Chapman announced a generous donation from the Simon Family Foundation to extend the Simon Scholar Physician Assistant Program at Chapman University for another five years. This philanthropic initiative is another way in which Chapman aims to be a regional leader in providing pathways to careers in health care for under-served students and those who experience socio-economic hardship in Orange County.

The gift from the Simon Family Foundation will fund 10 full-tuition scholarships for each entering class of the Simon Scholar Physician Assistant Program. These scholarships offer students the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in medical science at Chapman, with a commitment to serve in Orange County for three years post-graduation. 

Rachel Morrison

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