Rackover lauded for introducing genetic literacy to physician assistant education

By Jeannine Mjoseth
Deputy Communications Director

Michael 'Rocky' Rackover, PA-C, M.S.
On June 1, Michael "Rocky" Rackover, PA-C, M.S., a consultant to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), received the 2011 PAragon Outstanding PA of the Year Award from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) for outstanding service. Mr. Rackover, associate professor and associate director of Philadelphia University's physician assistant studies program, received the award for introducing genetic literacy to physician assistant (PA) education.

Mr. Rackover said he first became aware of the impact that genomics would have on clinical practice while working in a radiation oncology clinic 20 years ago. "People would ask me questions about how they got their cancer and, at that time, there was not much information to give," said Mr. Rackover. "With the completion of the Human Genome Project, more information became available to help patients understand the diagnosis and treatment of cancer."

In 1995, Mr. Rackover helped start the physician assistant program at Philadelphia University. Five years later, he was invited to join the human genetics curricula committee for the health professions led by Dr. David Gale, dean of the college of health sciences at Eastern Kentucky University. Mr. Rackover surveyed physician assistants and found a gap in their knowledge about genetics. Fortunately, he was in a position to improve the curriculum. As director of the physician assistant master of science degree program from 2005 to 2010, he developed the PA program's educational standards to help students better understand the coming "genomic technology revolution."

Boosting genetic literacy among health professionals was a goal he shared with Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., former NHGRI director, and Alan Guttmacher, M.D., former NHGRI deputy director. In 2006, Drs. Collins and Guttmacher asked Mr. Rackover to take a four-month, NHGRI sabbatical to implement projects that enhanced the integration of genetics and genomics into physician assistant professional practice and education.

"I cannot overstate how much Michael Rackover's unique efforts to place physician assistants in the forefront nationally of efforts to integrate genetics and genomics effectively into daily patient care have not only advanced the PA profession and made it a model for other health professional disciplines, but also have served to improve the health of patients for generations to come," Dr. Collins wrote in a letter in support of Mr. Rackover's APPA award nomination. Dr. Collins is the current director of the National Institutes of Health.

Mr. Rackover's greatest contribution to the genomic field was his work on the 2007 landmark meeting of executives from the four PA organizations: AAPA; the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants; the Accreditation for Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.; and the Physician Assistant Education Association. Participants focused on the future practice of medicine using genetics and genomics for personalized care. By the end of the meeting, the PA organizations reached consensus to support NHGRI's educational mission for health care providers (See: Physician Assistant Competencies for Genomic Medicine: Where We Are Today and How to Prepare for the Future ). Mr. Rackover received a U.S. Public Health Service coin from Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H., acting U.S. surgeon general of the United States in recognition of the successful meeting.

Mr. Rackover was a board member of the National Coalition for Health Care Professional Education in Genetics and an advisor for their targeted education program, Genetics in the Physician Assistant's Practice. Mr. Rackover also made significant contributions to the Genetics/Genomics Competency Center (G2C2) [g-2-c-2.org], a free, Web-based collection of materials that helps educators locate resources to teach the next generation of physician assistants and nurses about genetics and genomics.

"Everything has escalated in a very positive way. We now teach genomics across the physician assistant curriculum and there are test questions on the national board exam," said Mr. Rackover. "It's not just me getting the award, it's my profession. Genomic literacy will benefit both physician assistants and their patients as the scientific research becomes applicable to the clinical practice of medicine."

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Last Reviewed: October 23, 2012