Newswise — Ithaca College is recruiting the first class for its new Master of Science in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program. Located within the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance (HSHP), the program has received provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant and approval from the New York State Education Department.

The 27-month M.S. degree is designed to attract college graduates pursuing health care careers and who come from undergraduate pre-health profession programs such as health sciences, exercise science, athletic training, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and psychology. The entering cohort this fall will consist of about 30 students, and classes will continue to expand until the program is at its full capacity of 50 students per cohort.

The launch of this program represents a historic milestone in the evolution of Ithaca College, anchored in our roots of theory, practice, and performance,” said President Shirley M. Collado. “This moment reflects the tremendous collaborative effort of so many members of our Ithaca College community, whose determination and focused vision activated a reality that is aligned not only with the college’s strategic plan, but also with our fierce commitment to be a private college that serves the public good. This program will provide rich and relevant educational opportunities for students and support key areas of need within our region.”

“Ithaca College is already well known for quality health profession programs, and the PA program is a natural fit, adding high-quality medical education to the already established health sciences, health care, and rehabilitation focused programs,” said Linda Petrosino, dean of HSHP.

A physician assistant is a medical professional who diagnoses illness, develops and manages treatment plans, prescribes medications, and often serves as a patient’s principal health care provider in collaboration with a physician. It’s one of the fastest growing professions, with the number of jobs expected to increase 31% between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it ranks among the best jobs of 2021, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“Because there’s such a great need for providers in this region, a way to get people to relocate here is to have the program in this region and for them to experience it and fall in love with it, and then stay,” said Susan Salahshor, director of the PA program

The program’s focus areas will include rural medicine, family medicine, behavioral and mental health care, population and community health, and interprofessional education and practice.

“Every community assessment plan shows we need more health care providers to work in behavioral and mental health,” said Salahshor. “We wanted to do something where we’re building the future leaders in the PA profession.”

Martin Stallone, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Cayuga Health System, applauded the new program and said he is looking forward to the system playing a major role in the clinical education of IC’s students.

“Ithaca College and Cayuga Health are mutually committed to training practitioners who are skilled at delivering health care to rural populations and to enhancing the health care services available in our community and surrounding areas,” said Stallone. “The PA program builds on past successes of other collaborative clinical programs between Cayuga Health and Ithaca College, like physical therapy and sports medicine.” 

Ithaca College has been awarded approximately $1.6 million through the New York State Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program (HECap) toward the construction and renovation of facilities in the former Rothschild Building on the downtown Ithaca Commons to help deliver the content for the PA program. The grant program is part of an initiative to support health care education by modernizing facilities and enhancing student learning while supporting economic development. This supplemental instructional site will bring PA students and faculty to the center of the community that they will help serve.

Salahshor said it is necessary for the program to have space where students can practice their clinical skills. After exploring options on campus, she recognized there was a need for an additional space for students. The new space will include a clinical learning center and a simulation center with advanced technology that will provide students with the opportunity for hands-on practice and for faculty to observe the students in practice.

The program will establish relationships with community colleges offering degrees that include training in medical fields, such as paramedic and certified nursing assistant, and with the New York BOCES New Visions program, which offers high school students a nontraditional senior year with opportunities to explore health and medical sciences-related careers. There will also be a focus on diversity and inclusion when establishing pathways with high schools.

The program has created its own diversity statement, which establishes an equity framework that seeks to be representative of all people, including those impacted by systemic disadvantages and marginalization.

Carol Berlin, M.D., a local physician, will serve as the medical director of the PA program, acting as a liaison with the local medical community and helping to evaluate and teach PA courses.

“Since we’re building this program from the ground up, we have a unique value statement of creating servant leaders,” said Berlin. “Meaning, we will lead by example, as well as having an equity framework in which we hope to represent disadvantaged and underserved populations.”

For more information visit the PA program website