EMU to offer innovative physician assistant program

Program only one of its kind in Washtenaw County area

by Linda Hass, Published May 30, 2013

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PA group

PA program faculty and staff - from left: David VandenBerg, MD, Medical Director, Jay Peterson, MSBS, PA-C, Program Director, Eryn K. Smith, MS, PA-C, Assistant Professor, Karin Olson, PhD, PA-C, Assistant Professor, Michael Guerra, MS, PA-C, Associate Professor

Behind every doctor is a great physician assistant (PA). And behind every physician assistant is a great program that trains these professionals to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses and provide treatment.

Eastern Michigan University is now poised to provide this vital training and education through a new academic program -- a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. The two-year professional program, which emphasizes basic medicine and clinical methods, will prepare graduates for certification and licensure to practice as extenders to practicing physicians.

"Eastern's PA program is the only one of its kind in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti area-and one of few in the state," says Jay Peterson, PA program director.

The Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Physician Assistant (PA) Program has applied for Accreditation - Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The EMU PA Program anticipates matriculating its first class in May 2014, pending Accreditation - Provisional in September 2013. Accreditation - Provisional is an accreditation status for a new PA 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. In the event that Accreditation - Provisional is not received, the EMU PA Program will not commence.

One of the driving forces behind the program's inception is a pending national shortage of primary care providers, says Christine Karshin, director of the School of Health Promotion and Human Performance. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the need for PAs will increase 30 percent from 2010 to 2020-much faster than average for all occupations.

"Forecasts show a growing reliance on mid-level practitioners," says Karshin. "Physician assistants will play a vital role in filling that need."

Projected job demand is one of many selling points for prospective PA students; high paying salaries are another important draw. According to the Bureau, the median annual salary for PAs is $86,410.

Practitioners in the field point to other benefits as well: no expensive medical school, no grueling internship, and more freedom to move from one specialty to another -- yet all the satisfaction of providing care on a personal level. "The PA practice model is, by design, a patient-centered, team-based approach," Peterson says.

Eastern's rigorous curriculum will revolve around a primary care focus that teaches students critical thinking and ethical decision making while working in tandem with other health professionals. This focus will provide a solid healthcare foundation from which graduates can remain in primary care medicine or branch out to other medical specialties, adding versatility to career options.

Little wonder CNN Money, a business website, ranked the profession second in the category of "Best Job in America," and "Forbes," a business magazine, chose it as "Best Master's Degree for Jobs" in its June 8, 2012 issue.

Eastern's Rackham Hall is undergoing multi-million dollar renovations and will be the PA program home with a combination of settings, including: traditional classroom, small group, physical examination, clinical skills and simulation. Through a Clinical Educational Partnership, the EMU PA program will also include a Medical Simulation Center and Human Anatomy Cadaver Laboratory housed at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

To learn more about how Eastern can prepare you to excel in this career, see the Physician Assistant Program website, or call 734.487.0090.

Geoff Larcom



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