The groundbreaking launch of 32 medical careers


The SpartanPA Medicine Program will focus on increasing patient access to care in underserved areas

The inaugural cohort of the Physician Assistant (PA) Medicine Program will make history in mid-May, launching the medical careers of 32 students.

“We are very proud to see the culmination of years of hard work, innovative interprofessional curriculum designing and partnership-building come together with the launch of this new master’s degree,” says Dean Andrea Amalfitano. “The incoming class is diverse, intelligent and full of leaders. This is yet another way that our college will work to improve patient access to care throughout Michigan and the region, and I have no doubt that these students will make an impact immediately.”

During orientation on May 16-17, students, faculty and staff will begin to shape the future of improved health access, especially in rural and underserved areas around the state.

“One of the goals of the program is to increase patient access to care in Michigan,” says John McGinnity, Director of the PA Medicine Program. “Our students will rotate through the majority of the larger medical systems in the state—including those that the college partners with, such as Henry Ford Health System, Sparrow Health System, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health, Bronson and Beaumont Health. Additionally, we have worked on establishing new clinical training sites to place our students in areas of need within Michigan. We want to focus our work in the numerous Michigan counties with health professional shortage area designations, such as in the Upper Peninsula.”

“We also know patients want providers who look like them and understand their experiences,” McGinnity continues. “One-third of this class meets disadvantaged status. We’re working toward the goal of our student population reflecting that of the state of Michigan. We endeavor to create pathways to medical education for students who are underrepresented in medicine.”

The cohort is made up of 28 women and four men, reflective of the trend across the many medical professions, in general, that has skewed more heavily female in recent years.

The majority of the class (94%) is from Michigan—in fact, about half the class completed undergraduate degrees from MSU, which has a Pre-Physician Assistant Club. Incoming student Sarah Flowney recently won the President’s Award, the most prestigious academic honor of MSU’s Student-Athlete Support Services (SASS) department.

Beyond its exceptional academic profile, the incoming class brings extensive experience working in the health care field, demonstrated leadership and research experience, and volunteer community service.

“It’s been a challenging journey, but we’re excited about the program’s potential,” McGinnity says. “Now it’s fun. Now we get to see these folks come in and develop them into PAs who want to engage in their profession and their community.”  

The Physician Assistant (PA) training program is a year-round, 27-month-long program. McGinnity shares, “It’s been a long, interprofessional education process. We had to figure out how to integrate activities that wouldn’t be disruptive to the college’s successful osteopathic medical programs and have them fit with the PA scope and abilities. It took a lot of time to create innovative curriculum that meets accreditation needs, the market demands that health care systems want, and prepare students to take care of patients as part of a medical team.”

Part of that process involved interviews with several health systems throughout the region to better understand what’s working well and how they can better prepare PA graduates for the work environment. It also meant looking at State of Michigan Medicaid data to identify the most common issues seen in primary care offices to train PAs as generalists.

The first year will feature hands-on simulations and clinical skill-building, followed by over 2,000 hours in clinical experiences later on. There will be a mix of in-person and virtual classes.

SpartanPA students will have a White Coat Ceremony on June 17, where they will put on their short white lab coat for the first time to signify their entry to the profession and take a professional oath demonstrating their commitment to patients. The PA students will train clinically in a variety of medical specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, women’s health, emergency medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, surgery and more.

To set students up for success, the college’s PEAK program—an academic success program—has been integrated into the early curriculum to help students organize and prepare for the rigors of medical training. Students will also have access to the CARE team and other resources.

“DO students are excited about PA students joining their community,” explains McGinnity. “We’ll let the synergy between them grow organically at the pace they’re comfortable with. We’re excited about the interprofessional exchanges that will happen.”

While SpartanPA students will have their own student organization and opportunities to impact the communities they work in, they may also join some SpartanDO student organizations to truly embrace the interprofessional nature of medicine.

McGinnity is hopeful about the future impact of the program on health in Michigan: “We hope to emulate the college’s success in encouraging over 70 percent of alumni to stay in Michigan to practice and make a difference in their communities,” he says.