Board of Trustees approves physician assistant master’s program

The Elon University Board of Trustees has approved the establishment of a master of science program in physician assistant studies. The board's vote at its Oct. 22-23 fall meeting will launch Elon’s sixth graduate program.

Elon trustees met at the Elon University School of Law in downtown Greensboro Oct. 22.

Elon administrators will be working in coming months to finalize start-up financing for the program and determine where it will be located.

Elon has been exploring a PA program since fall 2008. After an external consultant advised the university on the requirements for creating a PA program, a 12-member feasibility study committee visited PA programs at other universities and completed a report that outlined the opportunities and challenges for the initiative.

The feasibility committee found that prospects for a successful PA program are excellent, with projections for a substantial increase in physician assistant jobs available in North Carolina over the next several years. In 2008, there were more than 11,000 applications for the 5,000 available seats in the nation’s physician assistant programs at more than 140 colleges and universities.

“We learned there is a rapidly growing demand for physician assistants, who are playing a crucial role in our nation’s changing healthcare system,” said Steven House, Elon University provost and vice president for academic affairs. “As we face a chronic shortage of doctors, physician assistants are essential to maintaining quality health services. Helping to meet the demand for more physician assistants is in line with Elon’s mission and our desire to expand our outstanding professional and graduate programs.”

Physician assistant programs typically require about 28 months of study, with students spending the first year in the classroom and the second year in clinical settings. Hospitals in the region, including Alamance Regional Medical Center and Moses Cone Health System, have expressed support for a new PA program and committed to host students for their clinical studies.

The program will enroll classes of about 36 students annually and include six faculty members, a director, a clinical director, a medical director and other staff members. Elon plans to combine a rigorous academic program with a focus on leadership and service to the community. The program’s clinical rotations may include domestic or international service learning opportunities in underserved urban or rural areas.

As envisioned, Elon’s program will require about 17,000 square feet of space, including a human anatomy lab. Current locations for the program being explored include the former Smithfield Foods building on Haggard Avenue in Elon, which was acquired by the university last spring, and properties in downtown Greensboro, N.C., near Elon’s law school campus.

The program could enroll its inaugural class as early as fall 2012 or January 2013. Before enrolling students, a PA program must earn provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), satisfying more than 200 standards. In addition, Elon would need approval for the new program from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Elon’s program will join North Carolina’s existing PA programs at Duke University, Wake Forest University, East Carolina University, Wingate University and Methodist College along with a program that is planning to enroll its first class in fall 2011 at Campbell University.