May 16, 2007

Physician assistant program to mark milestones

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The physician assistant program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will celebrate two milestones this summer: It's the program's 10th birthday, and for the first time this year, it will offer a master's degree.

The physician assistant (PA) program, begun in 1997, utilizes a problem-based learning format. The School of Allied Health in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts offers the program in cooperation with the SIU School of Medicine.

The SIUC program has been extremely successful, with a 100 percent pass rate for all program graduates and a pass rate exceeding 99 percent for first time test-takers on the national PA certification exam. In addition, graduates enjoy a 100-percent employment rate within three months of graduation. As a major research institution and in recognition of national trends, SIUC is transitioning its PA program to the master's level. Program officials say the shift assures SIUC students maintain the advantage of excellent credentials and enhanced earning potential.

Those currently enrolled in the PA program will complete their bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies. However, due to the creation of the master's program, SIUC will no longer offer a pre-PA major or a bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies. Completion of a bachelor's degree will now be required for acceptance into the PA master's program.

The University offers two different degree options too. A full 26 months (seven semesters) of on-campus study is required for the master of science in physician assistant studies degree. The first year of study, beginning in June, is on the Carbondale campus while the second year involves clinic rotations at a variety of Illinois sites. The final phase is an eight-week preceptorship at the site the student selects with faculty approval. The program offers 24 student positions annually.

By utilizing distance learning and a supervising preceptor, certified PAs with a bachelor's degree may finish the master's completion program in one year. Students in both programs earn a master of science degree but the full 26-month program is for those who intend to be a practicing physician's assistant. Those completing the full 26-month program receive a physician assistant training certificate and become candidates for national certification through the National Commission of the Certification of Physician Assistants.

The PA program is having a master's kick-off event and 10-year program reunion at 6 p.m. June 2, at 17th Street Warehouse in Murphysboro according to PA program director Laurie Dunn-Ryznyk. All program graduates are welcome.

For more information about the physician assistant program at SIUC, call 618/453-5527, e-mail or look online at