New Physician Assistant program director aims for 2015 start for students

Twenty-four students by summer 2015.

That’s the first target for David Kotun, PA-C, EdD.

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Second and third marks for the founding director of USF’s Physician Assistant (PA) degree program are to build a program that helps meet the high demand for primary care professionals, and to offer a viable career opportunity for the many veterans returning home.

“There has always been the need for more primary care and the transition into the Affordable Care Act will increase the demand even more,” Dr. Kotun said. “To help meet that demand, we’ll be mirroring the national push to consider our returning veterans who gained medical and healthcare experience while serving.”

PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice, order tests and procedures, and prescribe medications.

Approved by the USF Board of Trustees in March 2013, USF’s new master’s degree program in Physician Assistant Studies is based in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. The two-year program will incorporate a range of courses that link naturally across all of the colleges in USF Health, making it a “truly inter-professional program providing a well-rounded and robust clinical education,” Dr. Kotun said, adding that co-learning with medical, nursing, pharmacy, athletic training, and physical therapy students is a must.

“A magical thing happens when you get medical, nursing, pharmacy and PA students together and task them with reaching a diagnosis,” he said.

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The first class for the two-year PA program will start the summer of 2015, initially accepting 24 students, with plans to increase that number later to a yet-to-be-determined capacity.

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The first year will be mostly academics in classroom settings and the second year will be mostly clinical, with mandatory rotations (family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, women’s care, and emergency department) with the opportunity for additional elective rotations. USF’s PA graduates will be generalists, at least for the first few years but, Dr. Kotun said, there might be opportunities to get post-graduate fellowships for specialties in future years.

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But before the first student takes a seat in the first class, the program must undergo several key steps to assure the program is on target for accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), Dr. Kotun said. That process starts with earning provisional accreditation, which in and of itself has three steps: a feasibility study to show how well this institution can support the program (due in August), submission of a comprehensive application that gets into specifics, like the number of people supporting the program, the clinical experience, curriculum, clinical rotations, etc. (due in December), and an ARC-PA team visit to confirm the program’s offerings (set for February).

Then the ARC-PA commission meets in September 2014, taking about 30 days to review applications in detail and determine approval.

“We should hear in October 2014 and be able to take applications from prospective students after that, providing a target starting date of summer 2015 for our charter class,” Dr. Kotun said.

Dr. Kotun is already reaching out to veterans, having connected with the USF Office of Veteran’s Affairs for recruiting USF undergraduates, as well as contacting both the Haley VA and Bay Pines VA hospitals for providing information about the PA program to the veterans being seen at the two hospitals and rehab programs.

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USF is not completely new to Dr. Kotun. He earned his doctorate in Higher Education Leadership from USF, as well as worked as a physician assistant in the in the USF Department of Family Medicine. Prior to joining USF, Dr. Kotun was the director of clinical education for the four physician assistant programs at Nova Southeastern University while based in Orlando.

He earned his bachelor’s PA degree from Oklahoma University and his master’s PA degree from the University of Nebraska. Dr. Kotun is a retired major in the U.S. Air Force. He has taught physician assistant education for more than 15 years in the military, at the University of Nebraska, at the University of Florida, at USF, and at Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Kotun has also provided medical support to the USF football, men’s soccer and women’s volleyball teams, as well as the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team and the Tampa Bay Mutiny soccer team.

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David Kotun (left) with USF Health’s Larry Collins, a PA who helped develop the USF PA degree program.

Although Dr. Kotun is building a new program, he’s quick to point out he’s using the foundation laid by a team of USF Health faculty and administrators.

“I cannot take the credit for where we are now with this PA program,” Dr. Kotun said. “It’s (Stephen) Klasko, (Gretchen) Koehler, (Alicia) Monroe, (Larry) Collins, (Toni) Anderson, (Allan) Goldman. They all worked very hard to build the program to the point when I came in. I’m just continuing their work from here.”

Story by Sarah Worth, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications