USF Health physician assistant program earns provisional accreditation, can begin accepting applications

USF Health’s Physician Assistant program has been granted provisional accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The designation allows the PA program, which is based in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, to begin accepting applications for the 30 spots that will make up the inaugural class that begins in May 2017.

“This is a great accomplishment, after years of planning, so we couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Todd Wills, MD, associate professor of infectious disease, assistant dean and founding director of USF Health’s PA degree program.

“And we’re not wasting any time before we start urging interested students to apply to be part of our charter class. Provisional accreditation is the first step in a 4 to 5 year process toward full accreditation, so prospective students can be assured when they apply that USF Health’s PA program has met the rigorous standards required to achieve the provisional accreditation designation.”

The Physician Assistant Program team includes, from left, Alexander Neff, Larry Collins,

The Physician Assistant Program team includes, seated from left, Alexander Neff, Dr. Kaley Tash, Kathleen Flach, Adrienne Kinsella, and Dr. Gretchen Koehler. Standing, from left, are Larry Collins, William Ungureit, and Dr. Todd Wills.

PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine in partnership with physicians. 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, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice, order tests and procedures, and prescribe medications.

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s PA Program was created to meet the high demand for primary care professionals, a demand that is unlikely to subside, said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

“The health care landscape is rapidly evolving and will offer PAs ever-increasing, indispensable roles as an integral part of the patient’s health care team,” Dr. Lockwood said. “This is an incredible milestone for our college, and I’d especially like to applaud Drs. Todd Wills and Gretchen Koehler for their outstanding commitment to building a quality program that will meet the health care workforce needs for generations to come.”

More locally, the Florida Legislature recently passed legislation allowing PAs licensed in the state to prescribe controlled substances. And nationally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently published a proposal to lift a longstanding ban that prevents PAs from providing medical care through the “Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly” (PACE).  The proposed rule (published on Aug. 16, 2016) would allow PAs to be utilized in the CMS program designed to help patients meet their health care needs in the community rather than in a nursing home or other inpatient facility.

The provisional accreditation for USF Health’s PA degree program is a result of a concerted effort across USF Health, Dr. Wills said, including an assessment by the accrediting body of how well this institution can support the program, the clinical experience, curriculum, clinical rotations, etc. This included on on-site visit by an ARC-PA team in June to confirm the program’s capability. This accreditation team will track the program’s progress over the next few years, culminating in a final evaluation after the charter class graduates two years from now.

This provisional accreditation status is a key step in the PA program and certifies that the USF program complies with the multiple standards of accreditation, including missions and goals, academic plan, student services, faculty hiring plan, and institutional support, Dr. Wills said.

The two-year PA program at USF Health offers three distinct advantages to other programs — it is part of the Morsani College of Medicine, it offers access to a state-of-the-art, multispecialty practice group with multiple sites across the Tampa Bay region, and it is part of USF Health’s inter-professional education framework.

“Our PA program will incorporate course material from across a range of disciplines that link naturally across all of USF Health’s colleges,” said Gretchen Koehler, PhD, associate vice president for academic program administration and Institutional Effectiveness for USF Health and senior associate dean for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Physician Assistant Program team meeting.

Physician Assistant Program team meeting.

“In doing so, PA students will share in a robust fund of knowledge that will be reinforced while working in clinical sites, hand-in-hand with medical, nursing, pharmacy, athletic training, and physical therapy students. Our students will have the knowledge, skills and practice to become fully engaged health care practitioners.”

The team approach that is central to USF Health is also a cornerstone of the PA program, Dr. Wills said.

Dr. Todd Wills

Dr. Todd Wills, director of USF Health’s PA degree program.

“Being part a team is how our PAs will be working, so it’s a natural extension of USF Health that the PAs learn in these interdisciplinary teams,” Dr. Wills said. “Our PA students will be part of an academic health center, they will be right next to everyone who is doing cutting-edge practice the moment they begin their training with us.”

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.