LRU News

Physician assistant program coming to Hickory – Lenoir-Rhyne works toward Accreditation of new Physician Assistant program

Thu Mar 20 2014

HICKORY, N.C. — America’s rapidly aging population is creating a looming doctor shortage. One answer to the coming challenge will be found in the form of medical professionals who can extend the physician’s reach—physician assistants.

Lenoir-Rhyne University is working to meet its community’s medical needs by creating the state’s newest physician assistant program.

LR’s plans to enroll its first 40 to 50 student s in its Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program in the Summer of 2015, pending provisional accreditation—which is the status for a new physician assistant program that has not yet enrolled students, but at the time of its comprehensive accreditation review has demonstrated its preparedness to initiate a program in accordance with the accreditation standards from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.

If all goes according to plan LR will graduate its first round of P.A.s in August 2017.

Physician Assistants can do a lot. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery and prescribe medications. P.A.’s can also perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and makes rounds in hospitals and nursing homes.

“P.A.’s work closely with their supervising physician even though often times the medical doctor is not even in the same building and may be miles away.  We’re an extension of the medical doctor,” explained LR’s P.A. Program Director Dr. Helen Martin.

An average P.A. will treat about 3,500 patients annually while writing between 3,000 and 5,000 prescriptions. About a third of America’s P.A.’s work in primary care. Some 37 percent work in medically underserved counties.

The P.A. program will allow LR students to pursue a master’s degree, which will allow them to serve the medical needs of their communities in a promising career field. The Physician Assistant degree tops Forbes Magazine’s list of the best master’s degrees for jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for PAs is $90,000 and the job’s growing by 38 percent a year—much faster than average jobs, which are growing by 11 percent a year.

LR’s P.A. program is accelerated, intensive, competitive and lasts 27 months.  The  year-round course of study is designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree. Traditionally most P.A. students have a background in the sciences or health care fields.

A second option is the 3+2 program for incoming freshmen who want to graduate in five years with two degrees ready to become practicing physician assistants upon passing their certification test—a unique option in the region.

The P.A. students will spend their first year in the program in the classroom with focus on patient care theory, science and practice, combining class work, laboratory, and clinical study. In their second year they will be required to complete eight five-week clinical rotations in the following areas: family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, psychiatry and an elective.

Although many Hickory-area facilities and doctors have signed on to aid in the process, more are needed.

“That’s our main focus right now,” Martin said. “We’re looking for more sites where our students can do their clinical rotations.”

LR’s P.A. graduates will take the Physician National Certification Examination (PANCE).  Those who successfully pass the PANCE will be licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician

“We are here to educate students to be good stewards and service professionals for their community and the world,” Martin said.

Martin came to Lenoir-Rhyne University after serving as the program director for Keiser University Graduate School’s P.A. program in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

“LR is a perfect fit for me—I’m here because this is a faith-based university,” she said. “What is a P.A. but a servant? We’re here to serve our patients and our community.”

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