Manitoba will become the first province in Canada to train non-military physician assistants with the launch this fall of a new program at the University of Manitoba.

The institution's faculty of medicine announced Tuesday that it is now accepting applications for up to 12 candidates to enter a two-year, full-time program that will begin in September 2008.

Dr. Neil Barrington, medical manager of the program, said physician assistants have already been at work in the province for several years.

"For example, in neurosurgery at Health Sciences Centre we have PAs who are able to examine patients on our behalf, attend to night calls for emergencies, write prescriptions, discharge patients and so forth," he said.

"That allows us to get a lot more work done than we would otherwise if we didn't have these folks helping us."

Physician assistants, who work under the supervision of doctors, can also order diagnostic tests, assist with pre- and post-operative care, and perform some surgical techniques.

Most of the PAs currently working in the province were trained in the United States or through the Canadian Forces, which offers what was until now the only Canadian Medical Association-accredited physician assistant training program, Barrington said.

The U of M's graduate-level program, which results in a Master of Physician Assistant Studies, will be Canada's first university-based physician assistant education program.

Applicants must have a four-year undergraduate degree, a background in the health sciences and a minimum of 2,000 hours of direct patient contact in a health-care field.

The deadline for applications for the first program in the fall is June 1, 2008.