UWM adds pre-professional tracks leading to careers in demand

Students in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Master of Science in Anesthesia program get clinical practice in class. Photo courtesy of MCW.

UWM has debuted two undergraduate tracks that can lead to a virtually guaranteed job with a six-figure starting salary.

The College of Letters & Science rolled out new pre-anesthesiologist assistant and pre-pathologist assistant tracks this year, meant to prepare students for careers as anesthesiologist and pathologist assistants. Students in these tracks typically choose a major like Biochemistry or Biology, with classes tailored to meet the specific requirements of graduate programs that will train and certify them in their field.

Unlike anesthesiologists or pathologists who undergo four years of medical school and then complete a minimum four-year residency program, anesthesiologist assistants and pathologist assistants complete a two-year Master’s program and are then ready to join the work force.

“I think it’s more financially viable for health care systems to hire these very well trained Master’s-level professionals who can fill the gap. Just as physician assistants (PAs) work as a team with physicians in many settings, the anesthesiologist and pathologist assistants work closely with their respective supervising physician. You don’t have to have a physician managing every single detail of a patient’s care,” said Patty Cobb, the advisor for pre-professional programs in the College of Letters & Science. “I think it’s an answer, at least in part, to how our country’s health care system is changing overall.”

But what exactly do anesthesiologist assistants and pathologist assistants do?

A lot of what a regular anesthesiologist or pathologist does, according to Cobb. Anesthesiologist assistants are responsible for putting patients to sleep during surgeries, monitoring their vitals, and waking them up again afterwards. They’ll often preform pre-operation assessments and talk patients through their impending surgical procedures. Pathologist assistants often collect and run tests on tissue samples much like a pathologist does. In both cases, the assistants are supervised by a full anesthesiologist or pathologist.

“That higher-level professional is right there, supervising, making sure they’re available to step in should something more serious happen … rather than having the physician tied up strictly in a one-to-one capacity,” Cobb said.

She was inspired to create the pre-pathology track because of a UWM alumna, who is now directing the clinical education component of the MS Pathologist Assistant program at Rosalind Franklin University.

“In talking with her, it became evident to me that there is a whole new layer of health care that is evolving,” Cobb said.

It became more evident when the Director of the anesthesiologist assistant graduate program at the Medical College of Wisconsin, reached out to Cobb as well. MCW, which partners with the Froedtert Health Network, is seeing more and more hospitals across the region relying on anesthesiologist assistants.

“It’s been slowly picking up momentum,” said Abby Haak, an Education Program Coordinator in MCW’s Master of Science in Anesthesia program.

“In Wisconsin, there’s a big demand for certified anesthesiologist assistants. We just can’t fill enough of the open positions,” she added. “With our program, our first class will graduate this December. There are 12 of them, and they all had job offers by this past April.”

That high demand correlates with a high starting salary, Cobb said.

“Students who are passionate about working in health care are very excited about the prospect of being able to complete a two-year Master’s degree, command a salary of $160,000-$180,000 and almost be guaranteed a job. There’s very wide appeal for students to go into this field.”

As noted by the Medical College of Wisconsin, most of these programs have a 100% job placement rate, and the starting salary is lucrative. Besides these perks, there are other advantages to Anesthesiologist Assistant programs. Students opting for a traditional medical school route may incur significant debt and often devote eight to 10 years of their lives to medical school and residency after they graduate from college. Compare that to the two years – and significantly less debt – required to become an anesthesiology or pathologist assistant.

Though the pre-anesthesiology and pre-pathologist assistant tracks have few students enrolled this year, Cobb anticipates that the numbers will only grow as they learn more about the programs and the job opportunities that follow.

And soon, it might just be a UWM graduate delivering your anesthesiology in the operating room.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science