March 10, 2004                                                                      




LINCOLN— Union College’s physician assistant (PA) program will convert its baccalaureate degree into a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), which will be available to students entering the program in August 2004. Union proposed the MPAS to meet the growing national trend of graduate-level physician assistant studies.

            “One of our goals in the physician assistant program is clinical relevance,” said Michael Huckabee, director of the PA program. “For us to remain relevant in health care, we need to be sure our students represent the highest level of training. This degree will take us to that level.”

             “The MPAS should help our program remain competitive and progressive, and should result in greater rigor and quality for a program that has already distinguished itself,” said Dr. David Smith, Union College president.

            Because many of the program’s current classes are considered graduate level, few curriculum changes will take place. Additional requirements will include a research project and new courses in clinical therapeutics, psychiatry and behavioral medicine. Content will also be added to current courses in anatomy, pharmacology, clinical medicine and clinical skills.

            “It’s great that we’re able to give a degree that reflects the amount of work students put into their education. This is an intense program, and now we are able to show that by the level of degree we are giving,” said Becky Stafford, 2000 graduate of Union’s PA program who now serves as its clinical director.                       

“Students who complete the MPAS program will be better equipped in the job marketplace,” Huckabee said. “This will open even more doors for our graduates to meet the health care needs of any population they may be called to serve.”

Vanessa Sinclair, Union College junior who will join Union’s first MPAS class in August, feels called to be a PA because she wants to help others. “I have wanted to be in the medical profession since I was five years old and was playing with my Fischer Price doctor’s kit,” Sinclair said. “After volunteering at a hospital for four summers and shadowing a physician assistant, I felt God was calling me to use my talents to help others as a PA. I think Union’s transition [to a Master’s program] will be an excellent opportunity to learn at a higher level and be better equipped to care for future patients.”

Since its inception in 1999, the vision of Union’s physician assistant program has centered on service, especially to under-served communities, such as inner city and rural areas.

Many PA students choose to begin this service in Lincoln at a foot clinic for the homeless. Sponsored by Union’s Division of Health Sciences every three weeks at Daywatch (a Lincoln homeless shelter), students provide foot care and preventive health education. Students also give each homeless person a new pair of socks and shoes.

Each physician assistant student also participates in 12 to 14 clinical training rotations over the final year of the program. Eighty percent of students choose to do part of their rotations in Lincoln, and more than 60 percent of program graduates stay in Nebraska.

“The Lincoln medical community is one of our greatest resources,” Huckabee said. “There are 70 physicians in the community who donate their time to speak to our students, and more than that who precept for our students. We could not do this without Lincoln.”