In 2020, Northwestern College will implement a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program. The program will offer a two-year graduate track as well as a three plus two-year track to the incoming freshman class that fall.
The three plus two-year track will feature three years of undergraduate study combined with two years of graduate work. This is an excellent option for future physician assistant students because it will save time and money and eliminate the stress caused by applying for graduate programs.
In 2016, professor of biology Sara Tolsma presented the program as an area of opportunity for NW. There are few other schools that offer this program in the area, and the addition of the new science building allows for an expansion in the college’s healthcare programs.
A letter of intent was submitted to the Academic Affairs Committee and was approved in October 2016. The committee commended the development of materials for formal submission of the program.
Dean of Graduate and Adult Learning Rebecca Hoey and Dean of Natural and Applied Sciences Dean Calsbeek played integral roles in the establishment of the undergraduate and graduate programs. The two toured and spoke with a program director of a physician assistant school in Nebraska. When researching the possibility more, it became obvious that this program would be a good addition to NW.
This graduate degree is not new to private liberal arts colleges. Many schools have successful programs, such as Union College (Lincoln, Nebraska), St. Ambrose (Davenport, Iowa), Des Moines University (Des Moines, Iowa), and others. The College of Saint Mary’s (Omaha, Nebraska) is the only other school in close proximity offering the three plus two-year track. The school has been successful in running this program.
The incoming freshmen students in 2020 can apply to enter the program while in high school. Once accepted, the student will maintain a spot as long as he or she retains a certain GPA and receives a determined letter grade in specific courses. This will save students the hassle of applying to graduate school, as graduate school acceptance is becoming more competitive.
Des Moines University reported that the PA class of 2019 had 576 applicants. Of those applicants, only 50 were given a spot. The three plus two-year program helps ensure the undergraduate students a spot in a master’s program as long as they maintain good standing.
The process to become accredited for this program is long and rigorous. The Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education (ARC-PA) require at least four faculty plus a medical director. The medical director can be either a physician assistant or medical doctor and will be the head of the program as well as a potential professor. NW is currently in the process of hiring a director.
There are many questions still in the process of being answered. The exact size of the classes has not been determined, but NW is considering around 30 students. The number may vary due to clinical placements. The exact course work, prerequisites, required standardized tests for admission and possibility of waitlists have not been determined.
Once a medical director is hired and the program reaches its final steps, these questions will be answered.
The establishment for this program has gotten positive feedback. There is an increasing demand for physician assistants in rural communities.
“This is a great fit for NW because our mission is to prepare to do God’s work in the world, and this is clearly an area of need,” Hoey said.
Many counties in Iowa are currently medically under-staffed. When analyzing all these factors, it becomes obvious that this program will be a great academic as well as missional fit for NW.