Eastern Michigan's new program to help meet strong demand for physician assistants

EMU partnering with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital to provide highly specialized, hands-on training

by Pamela Young, Published June 11, 2014

YPSILANTI – With the shortage of health care professionals, particularly in inner city and rural areas, there is a strong demand for physician assistants with a primary care background.

Eastern Michigan University’s new physician assistant program, which will help to fill that void, celebrated its newly renovated, historic Rackham Hall June 9 during a grand opening for University and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital officials, faculty and students.

“There is a high demand for physician assistants,” said Susan Martin, Eastern Michigan’s president. “Rackham is a truly beautiful building and our program will be a national model.”

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor is partnering with EMU to offer highly specialized, hands-on training, along with innovative technology and clinical rotations for the students.

“It is a pleasure to be representing St. Joe’s,” said Rob Casalou, the hospital’s president and CEO. “There is a great future for advanced practice professionals.”

Jay Peterson, program director, said, “Students will develop clinical decision-making skills during the first year, and then practice those skills during clinical rotations at St. Joe’s during the second and final year. We’re also focusing on current trends in healthcare while maintaining a foundation in primary care medicine.”

Eastern Michigan Regent Beth Fitzsimmons explores the innovative technology in St. Joseph Mercy's simulation center

Among the innovative training methods in the program are a new advanced simulation center and a human anatomy cadaver laboratory. Both are housed at St. Joe’s. The simulation center includes high fidelity medical simulators, each costing $75,000, that can provide feedback when a student assesses a ‘patient’ with a problem.

For example, the simulator can mimic specific heart sounds that, in seconds, can be changed by the faculty member with a flick of a button.  Different sounds indicate different medical problems. Audio video software will capture a student’s progress in diagnosing problems.

The Human Anatomy Cadaver Laboratory at the hospital allows students to work in small groups while dissecting cadavers over the course of a semester.  The students will also do clinical rotations at the hospital, which currently has about 118 physician assistants and 91 nurse practitioners on staff.

Casalou said, "We will give the students real life experiences because of the simulation center. Older physician assistants had to try their skills on real patients.”

“We are pleased with the caliber of students, and are thrilled with the leadership here and at St. Joe’s,” said Francine Parker, chairman of the EMU Board of Regents. “This will fill a large demand in the health care industry.”

Another strong aspect of the program, Parker said, is that the faculty represents many medical specialties, including emergency medicine, sports medicine, internal medicine and obstetrics & gynecology.

Eastern’s program is one of only six physician assistant programs in the state. The inaugural class of students started May 5. More than 600 students applied for the 20 available spots. The American Academy of Physician Assistants estimates that more than 93,000 certified physician assistants provide patient care in nearly every specialty and setting.

Other program features include:

  • A patient exam room with high definition recording capabilities
  • A small group room for problem-based learning via interactive patient cases, and
  • A skills lab where students learn hands-on techniques such as suturing wounds and starting IVs.

EMU’s inaugural class has eight students with at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience in such roles as in athletic training, physical therapy, nursing, paramedics, military corpsman, nutritional services and recreation therapy.  The remaining students have experience in technician roles such as a medical assistant, pharmacy technician or through an internship

Other details include:

  • Nine students speak more than one language
  •  When first applying to the program in 2013, two students had their doctorate, four earned a master’s degree, 8 students had their bachelor’s degree and 6 were in progress of finishing their bachelor’s degree
  •  Their overall grade point mean is 3.7
  •  Five students have an Eastern Michigan degree
  •  There are 16 females and 4 males, with a mean age of 27
  •  All twenty students are Michigan residents

Eastern’s College of Health and Human Services is the University’s second largest college, with nearly a 50-percent increase in students over the last several years.

Historic Rackham Hall previously housed the EMU Children’s Institute and several other programs.  The original architecture features art deco tiles on the walls, period light fixtures and original wood paneling. The $3.6 million renovation by TMP Associates, an architectural firm, and Peter Basso Association, an engineering firm, included an interior renovation that was both modern enough to meet the program’s needs, yet historically accurate to its 1939 design.

For more information about Eastern Michigan’s PA program, call 734-2843 or visit the College of Health and Human Services physician assistant homepage at http://www.emich.edu/chhs/hphp/pa/about/  or send an email to chhs_paprogram@emich.edu

Pamela Young

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