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Health Science Programs Develop New Models of Education to Meet the Nation’s Health Care Needs

By Kristin Hubing

According to a 2013 study by the Health Resources and Services Administration, the demand for health care services in the United States will increase dramatically through the year 2020 due to an aging population and the expanded insurance coverage implemented under the Affordable Care Act. Given that projections are pegging the physician shortage at more than 20,000, it’s imperative that health sciences professionals be fully integrated into the nation’s health care delivery system to meet this expanded need.


GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) has been a leader in the effort to prepare for the expanded role of health professionals since the early 1970s.

In addition to nationally acclaimed programs in physical therapy and physician assistant studies, SMHS’ health sciences offerings include academic programs in clinical research and leadership that prepare future clinicians and health leaders for employment in industry, direct patient care, research, and management. As an early adopter of the distance education model, SMHS also provides high-quality academic distance education for a variety of health professions by integrating adult learning principles and technology to benefit students globally.

In order to remain at the forefront of a rapidly changing health care landscape, SMHS’ health sciences programs have embarked on a significant expansion that will allow the school to serve as an educational center for an even larger portion of the nation’s new health professionals and leaders. “The Health Sciences programs at GW is evolving to meet the needs of the changing health care landscape,” says Joseph Bocchino, Ed.D., M.B.A., senior associate dean for health sciences and professor of clinical leadership and management at SMHS.

This evolution for the health sciences at SMHS includes a significant expansion at the Virginia Science & Technology Campus (VSTC) in Ashburn, Va., which has housed GW research institutes and specialized academic programs since 1991. The health sciences fit well within this vital center for innovative research and graduate education; SMHS will base a premedicine, post-baccalaureate program with pharmaceutical and medical laboratory sciences programs at VSTC. In addition, the school is developing an interdisciplinary biomedical informatics program that will form the core of SMHS academic programming at VSTC.

The post-baccalaureate program in premedicine, which prepares candidates for medical school, will launch in June 2015 as a one-year program with a planned cohort of 25 students. The pharmaceutical sciences program is an expansion of SMHS’ pharmacogenomics program and will serve as a pipeline for students planning to attend pharmacy schools nationwide. The biomedical informatics program will prepare students for careers in an emerging health care profession. Medical laboratory sciences, an already formidable set of academic programs at GW, will expand with access to the VSTC campus and new laboratories that will support program needs.

“The educational systems in northern Virginia are producing well-qualified candidates for our academic programs who may be seeking careers in the health care field,” Bocchino explains. “We are building partnerships with the Northern Virginia Community College system and the high schools to develop integrated programs that provide candidates with a seamless pathway to an affordable education and translatable careers in health sciences. The VSTC health sciences expansion will provide an excellent environment for all.”

“SMHS continues to look for opportunities to develop innovative educational programs beyond the Foggy Bottom campus,” says Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, vice president for health affairs, and dean of SMHS. “With the clear need to expand the U.S. health care workforce, and in the framework of the university’s strategic plan, Vision 2012, we are leveraging our highly valued academic partnerships in Northern Virginia to expand opportunities for our partners, faculty, and students.”

Both GW’s President Steven Knapp, and President Barack Obama have stressed the importance of making education more accessible and more affordable in the United States; the message has resounded in the health sciences field and has become part of a university-wide mission at GW.

“This is a very strategic move for the school and the future of health sciences at GW,” Bocchino says. “Consider the pressures on both educational systems that develop health professionals and the systems that provide health care to contain costs. We are doing our part to develop new models of education that address accessibility to education for health professionals and, by preparing qualified graduates, doing our small part in making care more accessible as well. I believe this move fully supports our presidents’ vision for accessible and affordable education.”

Bocchino reports that SMHS has been building relationships throughout the region for nearly two years. “Our partnerships with the NOVA Community College; the Virginia Community College System; and the community colleges in Maryland, including Montgomery College and Prince George’s Community College, are key to realizing our full potential at VSTC and the health sciences at large here at GW,” he says. “Our ultimate goal is to run fully integrated academic programs that will leverage partnerships with these institutions in order to develop curriculum that threads all the way through these independent systems to create a well-prepared bachelor’s or master’s graduate. We are creating a seamless pipeline, and an affordable experience, for students who need academic preparation for careers in the health sciences.”

Occupational Therapy


This fall, SMHS established an advanced practice Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) degree program for practicing occupational therapists who are interested in interdisciplinary care of post-acute conditions.

“It is our mission to provide clinicians with opportunities that enable them to enhance their ability to serve their patients,” says Joseph Bocchino, Ed.D., M.B.A., senior associate dean for health sciences at SMHS. “We are excited to offer this new degree for occupational therapists who wish to advance their skill set and advance their career.”

The OTD program trains occupational therapy clinician-scholars to collaborate across the translational spectrum to integrate information from bench to bedside, and then on to influence policy. The curriculum focuses on transdisciplinary practice and research, scholarship in occupational therapy, and advanced concepts in function and learning, with an emphasis on post-acute and chronic care settings, one of the fastest growing segments of health care. The program is offered in an online learning format, using dynamic media for self-disciplined and self-directed students to pursue a clinical doctorate while preparing for professional advancement.