Chapel Hill Herald editorial: New program offers a leg up for veterans

Dec. 09, 2012 @ 11:00 AM

One of the challenges faced by administrators in higher education is developing new programs that succeed on a number of fronts. Academic programs need to be sufficiently rigorous. They need to be realistic in their execution. They need to have a market, not only in attracting students to those programs, but also in turning out graduates who will be desirable by employers (or graduate schools).

No doubt, administrators from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had all of this in mind, and more, when developing a new program that appears to offer great potential in many ways. The University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, announced last week the creation of a two-year master’s degree program that is geared toward medical sergeants in the military. The degree will prepare the sergeants to be physician assistants.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will pay $1.2 million over the next four years to help pay for full-time staff for the program and scholarship assistants to the students. The program’s design will include input from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg already has a strong relationship with the university system. Three years ago, UNC system President Tom Ross said when announcing this program, UNC and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg reached an agreement allowing soldiers to take advantage of programs at the university in Chapel Hill.

This particular program will be attractive for veterans, and also fills a need in the health care field.

Dr. Bruce Cairns, director of the N.C. Jaycee Burn Center and a professor of surgery, microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, said the program will help address an “enormous health care provider shortage” resulting from federal health care reform.

No doubt, if this program unfolds as expected, it will be well suited to meeting that need.