St. Ambrose University took another significant step forward in the field of health sciences education on June 16 when the inaugural 30-student cohort of the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program arrived on campus.
The advanced degree in the fast-growing PA profession joins occupational therapy, physical therapy and nursing among the graduate and undergraduate health sciences majors offered by the College of Health and Human Services.
St. Ambrose is the third university in the State of Iowa to offer an MPAS degree, following the University of Iowa and Des Moines University. Sandra Cassady. PT, PhD, the dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said more MPAS programs are in development.
The 29-month, 124-credit-hour degree program had been in the planning stages since 2010, when the Center for Health Sciences Education at Genesis was opened. The MPAS students will spend the bulk of their classroom time in the center's new 13,000-foot addition.
They will learn from a nine-person faculty and staff that includes Program Director Clare Kennedy, MPAS, PA-C, a physician assistant since 1996 and an educator in the MPAS field since 2005, and Medical Director William Langley, MD, a medical practitioner for 25 years and a medical administrator for 15 years.
Kennedy said the program will consist of "very difficult coursework at a very accelerated pace." It will include 14 months of didactic study and 15 months of supervised clinical clerkships.
At St. Ambrose, MPAS students occasionally will share classrooms with students majoring in other health sciences fields, introducing a team approach to patient care that is particularly valuable from a physician assistant's perspective.
"They need to learn about other members of the health-care team and how to work with them," Cassady said. "Physician assistants are a point of referral and they are going to help navigate where patients go for care. It is a very important role, so being an institution that already has other health sciences programs in place is very helpful."
Student Amanda Proczak said the CHHS's other established and well-respected graduate programs were a primary reason she sought admission to the first SAU cohort.
"That will be helpful because you can start learning right away what physical therapists and occupational therapists can do to help your patients," said Proszak, a native of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, who saw former college basketball teammates earn DPT and MOT degrees at St. Ambrose. "At other MPAS schools, I didn't really hear so much about that."
John Kenjar is a 49-year-old MPAS student from Waterloo, Iowa. He previously worked in advertising and finance, and is very familiar with St. Ambrose after earning his MBA from SAU in 2000.
He said his previous experience as an adult learner fueled his interest in being part of the university's newest degree program. "The faculty at St. Ambrose embrace the non-traditional student," he said. "I found them to be very open to how they can shape your educational experience around your background.
"I couldn't be more excited," he added. "This is an exceptional opportunity. As the first cohort, we have an opportunity and an expectation to establish a tradition."