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Physician Assistant Program Joins the SAU 'Team'

July 2012

Board of Trustee member Daniel Broderick '82, MD, said his message to future students in the new St. Ambrose Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree program will be a hearty "Welcome to the team."

Quite literally, he stressed.

"The modern healthcare team really is a team," he said. "It's not just physicians and nurses. PAs are integral members."

So, he said, are physical therapists. And occupational therapists. And speech-language pathologists. And nursing administrators.

Each of the above already are among St. Ambrose's health science offerings, which are sure to be strengthened by the MPAS program that was announced to the public on May 8.

"This new graduate program is an excellent addition to an already exceptional set of offerings in the health sciences field at St. Ambrose," said Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose University.

Sandra Cassady, PhD, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, has been laying the foundation for the program since June 2010.

Cassady and newly hired program Director Clare Kennedy, MPAS, PA-C, will spend the next year hiring faculty and staff members, developing the program's curriculum, and setting up clinical rotation sites around the country.

The program has applied for provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Pending completion of this initial accreditation process, St. Ambrose anticipates matriculating its first class of 30 students in June 2014 and graduating that cohort in December 2016.

The program will debut at a time when a growing shortage of doctors, particularly general practitioners in rural settings such as Iowa, is expected to collide with a larger demand for healthcare from the aging baby boomer generation.

It is a void that physician assistants can fill quite ably, and in Iowa, only the University of Iowa and Des Moines University currently offer MPA degrees.

There will be no shortage of quality applicants for the SAU program. DMU had 659 applicants for 50 spots in 2010, and applicant pools generally far exceed openings nationwide.

Students seeking entry into the first St. Ambrose cohort will need at least 500 hours of healthcare experience. The 27-month program will begin with classroom and laboratory work, followed by 12 months of clinical rotations under the supervision of a nationwide network of physicians and healthcare specialists.

With more than 525 students enrolled in existing SAU health science programs, Broderick is excited that the physician assistant candidates will get a healthy exposure to the team approach that is becoming an integral part of modern patient care.

"Certainly, a lot of people currently in medicine were not trained with that model," said the certified neuroradiologist, who currently practices in Florida. "If you can have trainees understand that holistic approach, that's really going to be very critical."

Cassady said St. Ambrose healthcare students already work and learn within that team-oriented framework, sharing occasional classes and patient cases.

"One of the things we are very excited about is to be able to build on the inter-professional educational experiences we have," she said. "All of these individuals are team members who help take care of patients together. The more our students can learn about each other's fields, the better healthcare providers they will be."­

–Craig DeVrieze

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