Dean's Update 2021-11-22

November 22, 2021

Our new SpartanPA Medicine Program, among the first in the nation to synergize the education of PA and DO students, will drive inter-professional education

Michigan State University has long wanted a Physician Assistant (PA) master’s degree program to expand its capacity to provide inter-professional education among our health sciences colleges, and to further its land-grant mission of improving the health and well-being of Michigan, the nation and beyond. The question was, who could successfully implement this goal?

Ultimately, the university turned to the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine to take the lead and see this vision through. It has been a very long journey spanning half a decade, but today we are proud to announce that the college’s PA Medicine Program has received Accreditation-Provisional status from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). ARC-PA has strict requirements for public announcements regarding the establishment of any new PA program prior to being granted accreditation, designed to protect the interests of potential PA program applicants who are considering which programs to apply to. Thus, our public communications about the program up until now have been limited.

In my many meetings with our college’s DO faculty and alumni, most have acknowledged that they already work with and/or employ PAs in a number of clinical settings, and the strength of that partnership has resulted in improved health outcomes for the patients they care for. They readily share that without the exceptional support provided by PAs, their practices could not survive the balancing act that is today’s health care system.

Currently the PA profession is the fastest growing group of all health care providers, with over 150,000 PAs participating in all medical and surgical specialties in the United States and Canada. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PAs will grow over 31% in the upcoming decade. Much of this growth has been driven by health care provision shortages across the nation, and by the PA profession’s desire to meet that challenge with a vision of “[transforming] health through patient-centered, team-based medical practice.”

For me, it is the team-based approach the PA profession embraces that resonates so well with the DO program’s mission to provide world-class medical education and foster community access to patient-centered medical care. As "minority professions" relative to our allopathic colleagues, we also share a common goal to improve public awareness of our professions. I believe that by learning from each other’s strengths, and instilling in our DO and PA students the osteopathic tenets of health and wellness, we can greatly increase the number of compassionate and highly trained medical professionals available to address humanity's growing health concerns. Working together, we have the opportunity to accomplish so much more.

In this spirit, our new PA Medicine Program will be among the first in the nation to synergize the education of PA students alongside DO students in a truly novel way. Specifically, the 27-month PA Medicine Program will matriculate 32 students in May 2022. This first cohort of SpartanPA Medicine students will enter a curriculum consisting of 108 credits that is focused on producing professionals ready to practice on day one in today’s health care environment. Our SpartanDO and SpartanPA students will learn together on many subjects and topics, understand the unique strengths of each profession, and become better health professionals overall as a result of this one-of-a-kind, inter-professional education. PA students will learn first-hand how osteopathic medicine's holistic approach and methodologies can strengthen their own capabilities, skills they will then share as they move out into their team-based health practices locally and nationally.

I am pleased to introduce to you the director of the college’s PA Medicine Program, John McGinnity, PA-C, who will share his commentary and thoughts regarding this history-making moment for the college and the university.

The ability to quickly spring into action is what drove the creation of the PA profession in the first place. In the mid-1960s, it became clear to the medical establishment that rural clinicians were in short supply. Although this need grew the PA profession, training a new kind of professional with a focus on medical and surgical skills has now evolved into present-day PAs playing an integral role in team-based health care in numerous medical specialties.

During the COVID-19 era, we’ve been witness to a real-time stress test of the nation’s health care system. It almost goes without saying that PAs, armed with a generalist’s skill set and sharp sense of field-readiness, have been essential to keeping hospitals and primary care offices functioning smoothly during the past two years.

With the PA role becoming increasingly vital to health care teams and patients, the launch of the new PA master’s degree program at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine is all the more needed.

It’s a very intensive master’s program credit-wise, but it’s really about taking care of patients and improving patient outcomes. MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine provides more doctors to Michigan than any other university in the state—the majority of our physicians stay and practice in-state. The PA Medicine Program is looking to build on that as well with a team-based approach.

As a PA, you want to treat patients and take care of people, holistically, considering mind, body, and spirit. I love the DO philosophy and holistic approach. It really fits with our core values as PAs.

MSU will be one of only a few PA programs nationally to formalize this symbiotic relationship between PAs and DOs. Half the curriculum has PAs sitting side-by-side with DO medical students. Having PAs train with physicians in the same classroom is very rare. This is the first time it’s being done in Michigan.

The PA Medicine Program’s classes will be completely separate from those of medical school students in terms of course numbers, objectives, assessments and outcomes but they will attend lectures jointly, ensuring both professions cross-pollinate as they gain competencies. The ultimate goal is for SpartanPAs to receive an optimal medical education and then go on to improve access to care, particularly in rural areas or places where there is a shortage of medical providers; boost patient health outcomes; and help create more cohesive care teams.

The type of student we’re hoping to attract to MSU’s PA Medicine Program has a strong sense of empathy, grit, leadership capabilities and a desire to give back. The PA profession is currently the top job in health care, which is reflected in the huge number of students who have expressed interest in the program.

There’s a shortage of doctors across the country, and PAs can help offset those difficulties. Our PA Medicine Program will put in a concerted effort to improve access to medical care for Michigan residents and train medical professionals who want to give back to their communities.

Andy Amalfitano

John G. McGinnity
Professor/Director PA Medicine Program