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Fred Whitt, founding dean of ASU’s College of Health Sciences, speaks at a press conference
announcing ASU’s new partnership with Wake Forest University to expand the private college’s
physician assistant studies program. Photo submitted

Originally published: 2013-08-30 10:38:52
Last modified: 2013-08-30 10:39:36

Wake, ASU partner to train more PAs

by Anna Oakes

Appalachian State University plans to help train the physician assistants needed to provide health care in Western North Carolina through a new partnership with Wake Forest University.

Wake Forest, a private, Winston-Salem-based university, will partner with ASU's College of Health Sciences to offer a new ASU cohort as part of its 43-year-old Physician Assistant Studies program.

In obtaining the two-year master of medical science degree in physician assistant studies, students in the ASU cohort will train at ASU and complete clinical practice requirements in the region.

"Research tells us that students from a rural area are more likely to return to work where they're from," said Fred Whitt, founding dean of ASU's College of Health Sciences, at a press conference at Wake Forest on Wednesday.

University leaders hope to boost the number of physician assistants working in Western North Carolina to meet a growing need for health care providers.

"As we increase access to health care, there will be a major challenge with providers," said John McConnell, CEO of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "All needs can't be met by physicians. Many of those needs will be met with physician assistants, advance nurse practitioners and with others."

Currently, Wake Forest's PA program -- recognized as one of the nation's best by U.S. News and World Report, according to McConnell -- enrolls 64 students per year. The new ASU cohort will accept 24 to 32 students beginning in June 2014, targeting students from the Appalachian region, as well as veterans of the United States military, who want to train and work in these areas.

"We want to serve the region where we are located. Appalachian takes that mission quite seriously," ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock said at the press conference. "We look forward to this being the beginning."

All students in the new cohort will attend a monthlong basic science leveling block in Winston-Salem and then move on to nine months of preclinical training at ASU. After that, the students will start a yearlong series of supervised clinical rotations in locations across the region and country.

Students must have a bachelor's degree and required science coursework to be eligible for admission into the program.

McConnell said the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is also actively involved in the partnership.

ASU established the College of Health Sciences -- its first new college in 40 years -- in 2010, and it is now the second largest college at the university, with 3,100 undergraduate and graduate students and 21 programs of study, Whitt said. ASU is in the midst of efforts to secure funding for a College of Health Sciences building to be located on land donated by the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

"It's our vision as a college to become the preeminent and most comprehensive health center for allied professions in North Carolina," Whitt said. "We want to be at the forefront of educating our students today for the new health care professionals that are needed tomorrow."

The initiative is partially funded by a three-year, $375,000 grant from the Duke Endowment.

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