Lenoir-Rhyne University has announced its intention to withdraw its Physician Assistant program from the accreditation process in an effort to make significant program improvements prior to a future relaunch of the program. The University had been working toward full accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) since the program began in 2016.
As a result, the program will not accept any new students into the program at this time and will close the current program in May 2021 after the majority of current students graduate. The University intends to make improvements in the program, consider a partnership with a school of medicine, and pursue options to relaunch the program under new leadership, likely in 2022 or 2023.
"This decision has not been easy, but it is the right thing to do at this time," said University President Dr. Fred Whitt. "We have a strong reputation in the health sciences at Lenoir-Rhyne, and previous PA classes have performed extremely well on the licensure exams and are enjoying high levels of success as practicing Physician Assistants. However, we believe it is time for us to pause, reflect, and conduct a thorough review of the program and the mission in an effort to raise our level of excellence and to better serve the region."
The decision came after a period of self-assessment and review by ARC-PA and was the path recommended by the PA Program Director, the Dean of the College of Health Sciences and University Provost. ARC-PA approved LR's request and has approved a "teach out" agreement for the 85 students currently enrolled in the PA program cohort classes of 2020 and 2021.
During this teach out period, the program will remain accredited on a probationary status through May 10, 2021. Importantly, students graduating under this probationary accreditation will graduate from an ARC-PA accredited physician assistant program, and such students will be eligible to sit for the licensure exam (PANCE) upon program completion.
Approximately 34 PA students who just completed their first semester will not be permitted to continue their PA program at Lenoir-Rhyne and will transfer to other programs. ARC-PA denied the University's request to teach out this group of students through May 2022. Through a partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), LR has arranged for each of these students to transfer directly into its PA program without delay. In addition, LR will work with each of these students to return tuition dollars paid in spring 2020, including a portion of onboarding fees. For those students who prefer to enter other programs, LR faculty and staff are working collaboratively with peer institutions to place each student in his or her desired location. Furthermore, if there is a lag time before these students are placed in another program, LR is offering each of these students the opportunity to enroll in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Lenoir-Rhyne tuition free.
"The PA program continues to be a priority for Lenoir-Rhyne and our community, and we expect it will return in the future stronger and better than before," said Whitt. "In the meantime, students completing their PA degrees with us will continue to receive the quality education we are accustomed to providing. Furthermore, we intend to do the preparatory work necessary to ensure that the program that does ultimately reemerge will meet the high expectations we have already established for Lenoir-Rhyne academics."