Leaders of the new Meharry Physician Assistant Sciences program: Left to right—Will Wyatt, program director and admissions coordinator; Dr. Wayne Moore, medical director; Dr. Maria F. Lima, School of Graduate Studies and Research dean; Kenneth A. Mitchell, founding program director and Michelle Drumgold, clinical education director.

Engaging, Supporting and Preparing New Primary Care Clinicians

NASHVILLE, TN — The new Meharry Medical College Physician Assistant Sciences program (MMCPAS) is a rigorous, full-time, 29-month, (seven-semester) academic professional degree program that includes basic science and clinical coursework, clinical skills training and supervised clinical practice instruction leading to the Master’s in Physician Assistant Sciences (MPAS) degree. The program addresses the demand for comprehensive delivery of medical care by producing health care professionals uniquely suited to address access to quality health care services in virtually every clinical setting. 

PA Profession History and Training

The PA profession was born in North Carolina to address the needs of care access in rural areas. The response to the need has continued for the 50-plus years the profession has been in existence. The strength of PA training is rooted in the practice of team-based care. Consequently, PAs practice medicine working both autonomously or in a collaborative relationship with all members of the health care team. Most recently, the Affordable Care Act recognized PAs as one of the three primary care providers (Physicians,  PAs and Nurse Practitioners). This legislation subsequently empowered PAs to lead patient-centered medical homes (PCMH), again addressing the demand for access to quality health care. 

PA training typically takes 26 months (two and one half to three academic years) and requires many of the same prerequisite courses as medical school. Graduate programs require obtaining a bachelor’s degree and prefer applicants have some previous health care experience. PA students take courses in basic and behavioral sciences, anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology and clinical medicine across all primary care components. Instruction continues with more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in seven required core areas: family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine and psychiatry. 

Following graduation, PAs must pass the PA National Certification Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of PAs (NCCPA). Licensure then must be obtained in the state in which a PA practices. Maintenance of certification requires completing 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and passing the PA National Recertification Examination (PANRE) every 10 years. The “C” in PA-C indicates that they are certified and eligible for or are licensed to practice medicine in their respective state. 

PA Training at Meharry

Meharry’s Physician Assistant program will add four distinctive components. Students will complete required didactic and clinical instruction in urology, men’s health and geriatrics. In addition, each graduate will complete coursework to obtain the certificate in health policy. These distinctive qualities of the program are included to address a growing elderly population that will have specific health care needs, alleviate the decreased access to urologic care due to a declining urologist workforce and gain a better understanding of health care policy that will further help MMCPAS PAs serve as advocates for their patients, community, state and the nation. 

The PA Program is housed in the School of Graduate Studies and Research and consists of core PA program faculty and a number of instructional faculty from Meharry Medical College. The program is led by Founding Program Director Kenneth A. Mitchell, MPAS, PA-C. Faculty and staff include, Medical Director Wayne Moore, M.D., FACEP, Associate Program Director Todd Doran, Ed.D., PA-C, DFAAPA, Clinical Education Director Michelle Drumgold, MSPAS, MSPH, PA-C, and Program Director/Admissions Coordinator Will Wyatt, MA, MPH.. 

PA Practice

PAs are trained to diagnose, treat and manage disease.  PAs can prescribe medications in all 50 states.  PAs are certified generalists with a foundation in primary care training and are prepared to make diagnostic and therapeutic decisions in life-threatening situations either autonomously or in collaboration with other members of the health care team. A PA’s specific duties are dependent on several factors: Their work setting (urban, rural, private, academic), their level of experience, state law and area of specialty. Generally speaking, PAs treat patients in various settings including but not limited to hospitals, medical offices, community health centers (rural and urban), nursing homes, retail clinics, academic facilities, workplace clinics, correctional facilities, federal agencies and health care administration. 

Multiple studies have shown that PAs are trusted health care providers. The studies further conclude that when well-trained PAs practice to the full extent of their abilities, readmission rates, lengths of stay and infection rates decrease. A Harris Poll conducted in 2014 indicated that 93 percent of patients seen by a PA in the previous 12 months, regard PAs as “trusted providers,” 92 percent stated that “having a PA makes it easier to get an appointment,” and 91 percent believe that PAs “improve the quality of health care.”

According to Merritt Hawkins, a health care search firm, the demand for PAs from 2011 to 2014, increased more than 300 percent. Forbes, USA Today and other media outlets have consistently listed the PA profession as the most promising job in the U.S. As of December 2016, it was reported that nearly 115,000 PAs interacted with patients nearly 350 million times annually. 

With the initial class size of 30, state-of-the-art simulation lab, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) teaching platforms, and supportive community-based partners, the Meharry program is able to fulfill its goal of engaging, supporting and preparing highly skilled PAs as primary care clinicians and public health policy advocates to the underserved communities in Tennessee, the nation and the world. 

The MMCPAS program has applied for Accreditation-Provisional, with the review meeting scheduled for June 2018. Pending receipt of formal Accreditation-Provisional, the first PA class will start in the spring of 2019 with anticipated graduation of the first class in the spring of 2021.