PA program marks 30th anniversary

PA Week
First-year PA students, with Program Chair and Director Jolene Kelly, PA-C’96, show off their National PA Week t-shirts, which state, “PA – the other white coat.”

Last year, the website CNN Money tagged physician assistant as the number-two best job for salary, satisfying work and big growth opportunities. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of physician assistants to grow by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. That growth, the bureau states, reflects “the expansion of health care industries and an emphasis on cost containment, which results in increasing use of PAs by health care establishments.”

Physician assistants, as a profession, have come a long way since four ex-Navy hospital corpsmen enrolled in 1965 in the first PA program at Duke University.

2011 marks the 30th anniversary of DMU’s PA program, the nation’s 31st but the first to be associated with an osteopathic medical institution. Funded initially by two health professions training grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the program became DMU’s second academic program in 1981, accepted its first students in 1982 and graduated a class of 10 in 1983.

“The idea behind it was two-fold – to extend the physician by providing a person who could do almost the same things and to train military people who’d already had medical training,” says William Case, PA-C, clinical coordinator for DMU’s Iowa Center for Patient Safety and Clinical Skills. A consultant on developing DMU’s PA program, Case was its first employee.

Gary Hudson was an emergency medical technician with the Pleasant Hill, IA, Fire and Rescue Department when a course he was taking opened his eyes to the PA profession. He is a member of DMU’s first PA class.

“The instructors pretty much taught us what they were teaching the osteopathic students. They were excellent,” recalls Hudson, a PA at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines for the past 26 years.

DMU’s PA program faculty, many relative longtimers at the University, focus on producing highly trained, patient-focused clinicians. That’s no small task given the growing amount of material that must be taught in a two-year program. That requires students of both high intellect and maturity, which the program attracts in force: More than 650 candidates apply for each class’s 50 spots; members of the Class of 2011 had a 98 percent first-time pass rate on the certifying exam.

“Our preceptors tell us we have the best students,” says Jolene Kelly, PA-C’96, M.P.A.S., PA program chair and director. “Many say students from other PA programs don’t want to work nights and weekends, but we teach our students that medicine is 24-7. It’s our expectation.”

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