Among the freshly painted walls and boxes of office supplies, the staff of the University of Nevada, Reno’s new Physician Assistant Program is looking forward to welcoming their first group of students to their new office and classroom at UNR’s Redfield Campus.
The new 27-month, full-time Master’s degree program aims to bring workforce diversity and cultural competence to the medical industry in Nevada.
“With the initial class size of 24, state-of-the-art anatomy lab, simulation lab, clinical professors, and supportive community-based partners to develop and master clinical skills, the program is able to fulfill its intention to prepare PA graduates for a successful and rewarding career,” wrote Brian Lauf MPAS, PA-C the founding program director, on the program’s website.
The new PA program came to fruition because of coordination between Lauf; Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk, the dean of the School of Medicine and Evan Klass, the senior associate dean of Office of Statewide Initiatives.
UNR’s PA program is a part of the Office of Statewide Initiatives, which aims to increase access to quality healthcare statewide.
“Our mission is to educate Nevadans to serve Nevada…[specifically] the underserved and rural areas in Nevada,” said Julie Thomas, the academic coordinator and assistant professor for the Physician Assistant Studies Program.
Thomas is a physician assistant and has been actively involved in the Nevada PA community since 2006.
Recently a selection committee interviewed 36 applicants for the new program in November and are set to interview another 36 on Dec.10.
The applicants that get through to the interview stage spend a day at the Redfield Campus participating in group and individual interviews, getting a tour of the building and interacting with professionals, Thomas said.
“Going forward, this first class will play an integral part in developing the program for years to come,” Thomas said.
The PA Program is currently in the process of becoming Accredited-Provisional by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). This is an accreditation status for new PA programs that have not yet enrolled students but have proved to be prepared to initiate a program.
In March, the program will receive official confirmation about whether they will receive Accreditation-Provisional. This stage will last for about three years, with yearly visits from the accreditation council to help successfully establish the program, Thomas said.
A PA program has been a desire and a necessity in Nevada, but due to lack of funding had never been implemented, Thomas said.
Initially, UNR had an exchange program with the University of Washington that provided PA education to four Nevada students, but as the need for more medical professionals in Nevada grew, so did the need for a local program.
The collaboration between UNR’s medical school and the Office of Statewide Initiatives, funding from the Pennington Foundation and a partnership with Renown has made the program a reality.
The new program has a full-time schedule, with 15 months of classroom education from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday, said Thomas. After the first 15 months, the students will complete clinical rotations at hospitals and clinics around the state.
Since the need for medical providers in Nevada is so high, Thomas said the program gives priority to applicants that live in Nevada. Out of the 727 total applicants, 115 were in-state.
“There’s been tremendous support from the community and the University, and the School of Medicine,” Thomas said. “Everything is [going] really great.”