Mount Union College Announces New Master's Program in Physician Assistant Studies

March 18, 2008

For the first time in nearly a century, Mount Union College plans to offer master’s level coursework.  Approved by the Mount Union faculty and Board of Trustees, the College’s new Physician Assistant Program will welcome its first students in the summer of 2009.

Mount Union, which last offered a master’s program in 1912, began contemplating the reintroduction of graduate programs last year when Dr. Patricia Draves, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, and the faculty were charged by President Richard Giese with moving forward with one of the College’s six strategic initiatives – to build a curriculum for the future.

“The Physician Assistant program supports our mission to prepare students for meaningful work, fulfilling lives and responsible citizenship and is a natural extension of our long tradition of priming students for medical school,” said Giese.  “The role of a physician assistant in medical practice is to be a caring, compassionate advocate for the patient and to spend more time with the patient than the physician can in providing patient education.  Mount Union has a tradition of preparing students to be good communicators and compassionate, caring humanitarians, and this will be the foundation of the program here.”

Physician assistants are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision.  A field that first developed in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, it has grown into one of the most in-demand professions in the State of Ohio and across the nation.  The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 49 percent increase in the number of physician assistant jobs between 2004 and 2014, making it the third fastest-growing profession in the country.

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), Ohio ranks 40th in per capita employment of physician assistants, indicating that there is much potential for growth in the profession within the state.  In addition, Ohio is suffering from a shortage of physicians, adding to the increased need for quality health care providers such as physician assistants.

“We also have been seeing an increasing number of our Mount Union graduates entering in to physician assistant master’s programs at other institutions,” said Draves.  “This is just one of numerous positive indicators telling us that it is the right time to implement the program on Mount Union’s campus.”

According to Draves, Jennifer Hillyer, instructor of biology, is currently working with 10 Mount Union students who plan to pursue careers as physician assistants after graduation, and nearly as many students majoring in athletic training and exercise science show a similar interest.

“In addition, other physician assistant programs in Ohio and across the country are turning away applicants due to a large number of qualified students applying for a limited number of positions in these graduate programs,” added Draves.

The Physician Assistant Program builds on the strengths of Mount Union’s tradition in liberal arts and sciences and will likely attract undergraduate students from Mount Union who have earned bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, athletic training, exercise science, health or business administration with a concentration in health systems administration.  These programs already have close ties with medically-related fields, including providing on-going support to students in pre-health and allied health fields.  The recent approval of the medical technology major, a cooperative program with The Cleveland Clinic, also supports this link.

“Although not all area hospitals currently employ physician assistants, many are looking into the possibility of having them on staff in the future,” said Giese.  “In addition, physician assistants are currently employed by a number of private medical offices in the area.”

The Physician Assistant Program will enroll 25-30 students each year, who will earn a master of science degree upon completion of 24 months of coursework and clinicals.  The clinical phase of the program is designed to provide instruction in the in-patient and out-patient setting so that students are prepared for clinical practice.  Representatives of the College are currently discussing the possibility of clinical education with the area hospital systems, as well s the Cleveland Clinic.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to once again partner with Mount Union College in an effort to provide the Alliance and surrounding areas with top-notch physician assistants,” said Stan Jonas, chief executive officer of Alliance Community Hospital.  “A successful physician assistant program is one that combines classroom learning with hands-on clinical experience, and this partnership between the College and the hospital presents an excellent opportunity for us to train caring, knowledgeable and skilled medical professionals.”

“The support this program has received from alumni physicians, area doctors and local hospitals is promising,” Giese added.  “We have the great fortune of a broad medical community from which to draw for clinical rotations and the philosophy of the physician assistant profession is a strong fit with our focus on developing compassionate and caring professionals.”

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