SRU’s new PA program earns accreditation-provisional status
April 29, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The countdown is on. With only 12 days remaining before the May 11 launch of its new master of science in physician assistant studies, Slippery Rock University staff and faculty are busy putting the final touches on the facility and curriculum.
The program, with 52 students enrolled, will blend on-site and online education, with classes offered at the former Har-Mer Building in Harrisville. The facility, once an elementary school, has undergone massive renovation to transform it into a spacious, professional learning environment to house the PA program and will now be known as the Harrisville Building.
While finishing the building and hiring new faculty progressed as planned, University administrators were waiting for one critical event to happen - accreditation. That hurdle was crossed recently when the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc., granted the program a three-year Accreditation-Provisional status.
Physician assistant programs must obtain accreditation-provisional status to begin operations, said Scott Massey, associate professor of biology/physician assistant program and program director. The provisional status enables students to be eligible to take the national certification exam and state licensure exams in all 50 states and U.S. territories, he said.
"In essence, the accreditation-provisional validates the level of excellence the program has already achieved because obtaining accreditation-provisional status is more challenging and requires that the program be extremely well developed and ready for students to walk in the door from day one," Massey said.
The provisional process will require two more site visits before the University can receive final continuing accreditation, Massey said. Continuing accreditation has 10-year cycles with reports submitted each year, he said.
Physician assistants provide health care under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses and provide treatment.
SRU's program is a 24-month program that combines academic and clinical instruction to prepare graduates for evidence-based practice, case management and wellness services. Massey said SRU's program would be the only one in the U.S. with a special populations focus.
"This means students will be more prepared to take care of a diverse population and populations that are underserved," he said.
The inaugural class is fully enrolled. Massey said the class profile mirrors national trends. It is 73 percent female, 37 percent male, with students ranging in age from 22 to late 50s, with the average age being 25. He said 17 percent of students graduated from SRU, with the rest enrolling from Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.
Massey said SRU received 500 applications for admission into the program and interviewed 120 candidates. Of those who received an admissions offer, 90 percent accepted. The program will begin accepting applications for the summer 2017 term on May 2.
The facility houses 13 state-of-the-art labs and equipment that simulates real-time patient care, including an interactive mannequin that produces mock vital signs. Four exam rooms include cameras for professors to monitor student progress.
Health care job opportunities are plentiful. In fact, Forbes magazine rates the master's degree in physician assistant as the number one master's program in the U.S. for employment opportunities, Massey said.
"On a national landscape, with a shortage of primary care providers including physician assistants, Slippery Rock University has become a major player in educating vital health care practitioners that will serve Pennsylvania and the surrounding states," Massey said.
Massey will administer the program and teach "Physical Diagnosis," "Clinical Laboratory Diagnosis," "Research Methods" and "Capstone Project."
The graduate program, Massey said, will have an impact on undergraduate enrollment, with freshmen entering degree paths leading to enrollment in the physician assistant graduate program.
"In future years as the program achieves success and the reputation continues to improve with excellent outcomes, the demand for this program will only grow exponentially," Massey said. "The physician assistant program provides another dimension to the already excellent graduate-level health care programs such as the doctor of physical therapy at Slippery Rock University."
The SRU Foundation bought the former elementary school from the Slippery Rock Area School District to create a home for the physician assistant program.
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physical Assistant is an accreditation agency that protects the interests of the public and health care professionals by setting educational and practice standards.
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