WCU Welcomes Inaugural Class of Physician Assistant Students

WEST CHESTER, PAWest Chester University is welcoming the first students into the new Physician Assistant Program this July after successfully applying [BA1] for accreditation-provisional status from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA.) This is the only physician assistant program in Chester County.

The first 27 students enrolling this year, selected from more than 850 applicants, will complete the 26-month program and obtain their M.S. in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies in August 2023. Students entering this class are coming to the program from a range of backgrounds including physical therapy, athletic training, respiratory therapy, nutrition and dietetics, EMT, and have at least a bachelor’s degree and a significant number of science prerequisites. Among the individuals in this cohort are 12 in-state students and 15 from beyond Pennsylvania.

Grades and GPA are important in WCU’s admissions process but so are direct patient care experience (400 hours minimum, paid or volunteer) and a shadowing experience with a practicing physician assistant (4 hours minimum) to ensure that students have a strong understanding of the profession and its demands[BA2] . The incoming class has an impressive average GPA of 3.61 and 4,800 hours of direct patient care experience.

“Entering GPAs for PA applicants and acceptance rates are comparable to the competitiveness of medical school,” notes Amy Baker, M.S., PA-C, Program Director and faculty member for the Physician Assistant Program. “Physician assistant training is extremely rigorous but the profession is very rewarding. There is a high demand for graduates due to the recognized value by patients and the healthcare system.” In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 31% increase in job prospects for physician assistants between 2019 and 2029[BA3]. The profession is currently ranked as the #1 Best Job by U.S. News and World Reports after being in the top five consistently since 2016.

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Physician assistants practice medicine on collaborative teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They are increasingly autonomous and can provide many of the same services as physicians including providing health education, diagnosing, and prescribing.

WCU’s program will educate physician assistants who can think critically and collaborate with others to address the needs of individual patients and the healthcare community with the highest levels of academic, clinical, ethical, and cultural competence. It follows a medical model with 14 months (five semesters) in the classroom and 12 months in clinical settings (35 to 60 hours a week) for a total of 101 credits. Faculty and students both continue year-round without a summer break.

Students complete a year of clinical training through required core rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, women’s health and prenatal care, surgery, and emergency medicine. In addition, students can choose from various medical specialties such as orthopedics, urgent care, neonatology, cardiology, dermatology, and others, for their elective rotation. Clinical experiences may take place regionally with Main Line Health, Chester County Hospital, private physician offices and clinics, or locations throughout the country.

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Small class sizes and a student faculty ratio of 7:1 distinguish WCU’s program, as does the program’s interprofessional collaboration with other departments within WCU’s College of Health Sciences. The program is focusing on preparing graduates for the evolving position that PAs have in the healthcare system, including roles beyond patient care such as education, community outreach, advocacy, and leadership.

While certain courses and events will be held on WCU’s main campus, the majority of the program will initially be housed 15 minutes away at the WCU Exton location. One laboratory is dedicated to physical diagnosis, another for a simulation center where students will practice their skills prior to clinical rotations. New Anatomage tables will supplement students’ cadaver lab learning. Other spaces in the PA suite include classrooms, examination rooms, conference rooms, and a student lounge. A campus shuttle bus connects the two locations.

The principal faculty cumulatively have more than 60 years of professional clinical practice and more than 30 years of full-time PA education experience. Baker acknowledges WCU’s strong healthcare alumni network, noting that alumni will be among the adjunct instructors and guest lecturers who will supplement core faculty expertise.

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“I have been overwhelmed by the support of the local community and West Chester alumni,” she says. “I have been spontaneously contacted by and reached out to many alumni who have been willing to share their time and expertise with the program. We have recruited many to become members of our Admissions Committee, as preceptor for the students, and as guest lecturers. I’m also thrilled that one of our founding faculty members, Jennifer Anderson ’02, is a WCU alumna.”

PAs will continue to be integral to growing team-based healthcare provision models. Their roles and contributions in all areas of medicine will continue to evolve and expand.

For more information on the WCU Physician Assistant Program, email [email protected].

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