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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Former University of California San Diego Chancellor and UC President Emeritus Richard Atkinson and Rita Atkinson Thursday committed to give nearly $7 million to establish and endow a physician assistant education program at UCSD.

University of California President Richard C. Atkinson listens at a UC Board of Regents meeting, Thursday, Nov. 20, 1997 on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. Atkinson served as UC San Diego’s fifth chancellor from 1980 to 1995. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

The gift is contingent on the establishment of a physician assistant education program at UC San Diego being approved by the University of California. The gift for the proposed Richard C. and Rita L. Atkinson UC San Diego Physician Assistant Education Program will be given via a charitable trust.

“This generous investment from the Atkinson family will allow UC San Diego to expand access to health care by meeting the growing need for more medical professionals locally and statewide,” said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “The university has been increasing its research and education efforts in the field of public health over the past several years, and this transformative gift brings UC San Diego one step closer toward our commitment and vision of creating a healthier world.”

The physician assistant education program is intended to expand the pipeline of students interested in exploring that career path while also addressing the rising demand for physician assistants. But according to UCSD, approval and accreditation by the UC system could take two years.

Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the expected shortage of physicians in the country could reach up to 120,000 by 2030. Physician assistants could help fill this gap.

“We are immensely grateful to Rita and Richard Atkinson for their generosity toward helping students discover and explore the physician assistant career path,” said Dr. Steven R. Garfin, interim dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “As the region’s only medical school, we are dedicated to providing cutting-edge resources and education to our students as we continue our successful history of graduating outstanding health professionals. Through the support of this gift, the new program will help our students develop as leaders devoted to providing quality care for all.”

A professor of psychology and cognitive science, Atkinson served as former director of the National Science Foundation and past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He served as the fifth chancellor of UC San Diego from 1980 to 1995, where he began the UCSD Connect program to help connect life science and technology entrepreneurs with support and information such as preparing business plans and attracting capital.

He served as the 17th president of the University of California from 1995 until his retirement in 2003.