Elesea Villegas is the director of Clinical Education for the TTUHSC Physician Assistant program.
The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s (TTUHSC) Physician Assistant program
is combating the current needs of rural West Texans by arming the next class of physician
assistants with clinical experiences in rural and underserved communities from the
top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin, Abilene and El Paso.
Elesea Villegas, Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor, has only been in her current position for over a year, yet she has already seen first hand the effects of the program. She is a graduate of TTUHSC PA program’s 2013 class. Her rural rotation took her to Big Spring, Texas where she was in OB/GYN. Since she was the only student on her site, her immersion was immediate.
“My rural rotation was great for me. I grew up here and know how important quality health care is for our communities,” said Villegas. “Our students get to actually go out into those communities, immerse themselves into their education, and get their hands dirty.”
The rural clinical rotation lasts six weeks where the students stay onsite, usually housed in a patient hospital room. This forces them into the deep end with their rotation, taking them either into being on call in the ER or getting tastes of the clinics onsite, such as family medicine, pediatrics, or internal medicine. The students start out by providing a list of clinical regions in West Texas they have ranked based on their preferences. Then TTUHSC matches the student to one of their rural sites. Ninety-five percent of the current class was matched with their first or second preference.
TTUHSC's PA program requires hands on training to prepare students for the field.
“TTUHSC’s program is more hands on, the students are more involved with day to day
activities,” Villegas explains. “There are also less students on site, so there are
more opportunities for one on one time with advance practice providers.”
There are some challenges to rural rotations. Housing is a major obstacle. Or better yet, the lack of housing is a major obstacle. Expansion to more rural communities is one of the program’s main goals, but the lack of available and affordable housing has caused some hurdles. However, the rural rotation brings important, and sometimes life changing realizations, making it worth the additional work.
“When I was a student, I had no interest in going into surgery, but I had such a great preceptor who pushed me and worked with me that I ended up accepting a job after graduation in surgery,” Villegas points out the opportunity her one on one interaction with her preceptor (the physician she was mentored by and shadowed) gave her.
The retention rate of PA students staying in the rural communities of West Texas grows each year.
What brings this full circle is some of the advance practice providers are alumni
of TTUHSC’s PA program continuing to work in rural and underserved areas. The retention
rate of keeping TTUHSC students practicing in the rural communities of West Texas
is growing with each class. Currently, there are fifty-four second years graduating
this year and fifty-eight first years, who will begin their clinical rotations in