By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — A crucial step in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree program at St. Ambrose University has been reached. The school learned in late March that it has received Accreditation-Provisional status from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
Clare Kennedy, MPAS program director, said the process to get to this point has been ongoing for several years. The physician assistant program was announced in May 2012 and the first class begins its studies in June 2014.
To receive provisional status, Kennedy said the university submitted paperwork about faculty and staff who have been hired, a curriculum plan, clinic site rotations, space needs and other information. The accrediting agency also made two site visits. “They looked at all the details,” she said. “They talked with administration, faculty, myself, our medical director. They saw our new space (an addition to the health sciences building) and went page by page through our curriculum.”
ARC-PA sent its report to the full committee, which meets twice a year. That committee granted accreditation this month. “Without this provisional status, we couldn’t open our doors,” Kennedy said.
While awaiting provisional accreditation, applications were taken from the first group anticipated to enter the program.
Sandra Cassady, dean of St. Ambrose’s College of Health and Human Services, said more than 300 qualified applications for the 30 openings were received.
“The large pool of well-qualified applicants — even before we reached Accreditation-Provisional status — is a testament to St. Ambrose’s reputation and allowed us to be very selective in our offers,” Kennedy said. “We were amazed at the number that applied.”
Whittling the number to 30 was not easy. The first round dismissed people who did not have all the pre-requisite classes. Then students were ranked by academics, grade-point average and health care experience, among other qualifications. Afterwards, 80 students were interviewed over a four-week period. The accepted class includes 18 students from Iowa and Illinois; the rest come from throughout the United States.
“In addition to the MPAS building upon an existing strength and an area of strategic focus at St. Ambrose, the strong first class also can be attributed to Iowa’s reputation for excellent PA education programs, support from the medical community and our program’s primary care and rural practice emphasis,” Cassady said.
When it comes to clinical rotations, Kennedy said she has worked with hospitals, medical groups, private-practice physicians and rural clinics to place students. Each student will complete eight rotations, of which five will be selected by the university; the students can choose three electives.
The inaugural class and the two that follow will have 30 students each. Kennedy said the university wanted to maintain its low faculty-student ratio and ensure quality placement for its students.
The Master of Physician Assistant Studies will be a 29-month program that includes 14 months of classroom and laboratory studies and 15 months of clinical rotations.
The first class is scheduled to graduate in December 2016.
For more information on the MPAS program, visit www.sau.edu/mpas.