SRU’s PA program takes major step in accreditation process


Students receive instruction from a professor

Slippery Rock University’s master of science in physician assistant studies program recently received a clean bill of health on provisional accreditation from its accrediting body, paving the way toward full accreditation by spring 2020.

Aug. 2, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's master of science in physician assistant studies program recently received a clean bill of health as it took another major step in the accreditation process.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, or ARC-PA, as is customary with all new programs, initially accredited SRU with the status of "accreditation-provisional" in 2016 at the beginning of the program's first year. After an intensive, two-day site visit in March 2018 and evaluating SRU's first PA class that graduated from the two-year program in May 2018, the ARC-PA board last month approved SRU to keep its provisional status. This paves the way toward full, or "accreditation-continued," status pending another review in fall 2019. Continued status means that accreditation reviews would occur every 10 years with reports submitted annually.

Williams headshot


"Getting over the second hurdle is one of the hardest parts because this was the first time they came back to see the product of our work," said Lynn Williams, associate professor of physician assistant and program director. "The faculty have been amazing through the accreditation process and we have a wonderful group of students."

Current SRU faculty and staff on the accreditation committee are Megan Borger, assistant professor of physician assistant; Justin Siebert, assistant professor of physician assistant; Nicole Dafoe, associate professor of biology; and Samantha Kelly, director of institutional assessment and accreditation.

"(ARC-PA has) very stringent criteria," said Borger, who helped prepare the self-study and analyze the data for everything from curriculum and clinical site standards to types of medical specialties. "They are verifying that we're doing what we said we would do in our (accreditation) application."

SRU's provisional status means that while program graduates are obtaining degrees from an accredited program, the program itself is simply under a bit more scrutiny since it is new.

"(The process is) so rigorous because the PA profession is expanding so fast and they don't want inadequate programs popping up just to make money or for the wrong reasons," Williams said. "(ARC-PA) wants to make sure the students are investing in a program that's going to get them where they need to be. And they want to make sure the public is being taken care of by people who know what they are doing."

Early indicators show that SRU students are meeting standards set by established programs and exceeding the expectation for new programs. Ninety-five percent of SRU's graduates from the PA program passed the national board exam, achieving certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, which is required to enter the profession. The national average is 96 percent, but according to Williams, SRU's success rate is uncommon for provisionally accredited programs which generally have a pass rate of 85 percent.

SRU graduates from the inaugural class are being placed in desirable locations including Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Surgery in Baltimore, the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh and the UPMC Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Alexus Nubani headshot


SRU is competitive with other PA programs in the region, both in terms of quantity and quality, Williams said. SRU receives more than 1,000 applications for 52 spots in each class. The average undergraduate grade-point average of students enrolled in the program exceeds 3.5.

SRU undergraduates who qualify are given preference through the University's 3+2 pre-PA concentration, where undergraduates can complete both their bachelor's and master's degrees in five years rather than the traditional six years.

One student on the 3+2 track is Alexus Nubani, a junior biology major from Leavittsburg, Ohio, who was recently accepted into the PA program on conditional admission for next year and will serve as president of the Pre-Physician Assistant student organization this year.

"I knew this would be a comfortable transition for me and I love (SRU) already," said Nubani, who was particularly impressed with how SRU prepares PA students to treat patients from special-needs populations, including those with disabilities or having a low income. "I don't have to become a doctor to have a fulfilling career in medicine. This is a good stepping stone and they have gorgeous facilities."

The PA program is housed in the Harrisville Building, seven miles from Slippery Rock in a renovated site that was once an elementary school in Harrisville. The facility houses 13 state-of-the-art labs, four exam rooms that include cameras for professors to monitor student progress, and equipment that simulates real-time patient care, including an interactive mannequin that produces mock vital signs.

While students and faculty from the PA program feel part of the campus community in Slippery Rock, they are also well integrated in the Harrisville community, organizing a community 5K run/walk, participating in the Independence Day parade and performing other acts of public service.

"Harrisville has embraced us and we've embraced Harrisville," said Williams, who noted the town's mayor, Gary Hughes, brought students ice cream from the shop he owns in town. "The students like it because it's like having their own hometown. But we feel part of the University even though we are in Harrisville."

"The administration and the University as a whole care about this program and the amount of resources dedicated to this program is almost unmatched," Siebert said. "The leadership has been really wonderful preparing us for accreditation and if we needed something they've found a way to help us get it."

For more information about SRU's physician assistant studies program, click here.

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