March 09, 2011

Diemer new physician assistant program director

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Donald O. Diemer is the new director of the physician assistant program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

A native of northwest Arkansas, Diemer served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years prior to his retirement in 2006, and said he always wanted to be closer to the region. He comes to SIUC from Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center, where he spent the past five years. For nearly the last two-and-one-half years, Diemer was associate director in the university’s physician assistant program.

Diemer said he is “happy and blessed” to be at SIUC. He said he loves the problem-based learning (PBL) format the program utilizes. The PBL model is much more interactive than a traditional physician assistant (PA) education, where students will spend a year in classroom lectures before beginning clinical work. In the PBL format, small groups of five to eight students and a faculty member, who works as facilitator, start off with a medical issue from a patient and learn from there. Students work through a patient’s history, physical assessment and medical plan.

“It’s very student-friendly and I believe it allows us to put out good PAs to increase access to care in the community and take good care of patients,” he said.

“I think it makes a better PA in some respects in that they are more intuitive about being able to map out a problem with a patient who comes to them,” Diemer said. “Rather than being fed a lot of information at once and asked to piece it together in the second year, students already are learning when a patient comes in and has a complaint what steps they need to take.

“They are better able to discuss with their supervising physicians what is wrong with a patient from the beginning,” Diemer said. Another difference is students in SIUC’s program begin with oral examinations, where in traditional programs students take multiple choice tests, particularly in the first year, he said.

The PA program started in 1997. The School of Allied Health in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts offers the program in cooperation with the SIU School of Medicine.

Diemer “definitely will be an asset to the program due to his military background and experience as a director of an out-of-state program, bringing new and innovative ideas,” said Charla J. Lautar, professor and director of the School of Allied Health.

The program’s PBL curriculum is internationally recognized, Lautar said.

Diemer is pursuing his doctoral degree in health sciences from A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz., and he expects to finish in August. While in the Air Force, Diemer was a physician assistant and worked in family practice medicine and emergency medicine.

Diemer earned his bachelor’s degree from SIUC in education in 1990 through the University’s off-campus program. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in physician assistant studies and master’s degree in physician assistant studies and family medicine from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.

The need for PAs, particularly in rural areas including Southern Illinois, remains critical, Diemer said. The profession continues to rank as one of the best careers to pursue.

“Physician assistants are now and will be in the future an integral part of patients even being able to see a provider,” Diemer said. “The future for physician assistants remains very bright.”

Diemer said he wants to increase PA access in rural communities in Southern Illinois, and ensure the program continues its focus on students earning national certification. The program had a 100 percent certification rate last year and has a five-year average of 95 percent, he said.

Interest in the program remains very competitive. There were more than 400 applications for the 30 student positions last year, he said.

PA students have bachelor’s degrees prior to consideration for admission to the program.

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 also offers a master’s degree that certified PAs with a bachelor’s degree may finish in 12 months.

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.

Diemer and his wife, Cheri, who is originally from southeast Missouri, have four children.