Physician assistant program condenses curriculum by four months

By Alex Branch

PA at Graduation
The Physician Assistant Studies Program will condense its curriculum from 34 to 30 months, a change that will increase efficiency for the nationally recognized program.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant approved the UNT Health Science Center’s proposal for the new curriculum, which will take effect in Fall 2019.

Kirk Barron

Kirk W. Barron, PhD

Student feedback was a factor in the decision to shorten the length of the program, which was at least four months longer than many PA programs in the state and one of the longest in the nation, said Kirk W. Barron, PhD, PA-C, Chairman of the Physician Assistant Studies Program.

“This will make us even more competitive to attract the best and brightest students,” Dr. Barron said. “From a student perspective, you can either be practicing and earning money for those four months or you can still be in school for four more months.

“From the institution’s perspective, we can more efficiently graduate the same number of students with a quality education that prepares them to be future leaders in health care,” he said.

The UNTHSC PA program, established in 1997, originally was a 27-month curriculum but grew to 34 months when it became a master’s level program in 2000, he said. Today, it is ranked 33rd out of more than 150 schools assessed in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Last year 1,673 qualified students from Texas and across the country applied for 75 spots.

To achieve the new curriculum, program officials will reduce overlap by combining several courses and trim the amount of time students spend away from campus during breaks, Dr. Barron said.  The faculty also identified several areas of the curriculum that were longer than needed.

“During this assessment, we also identified several courses we wanted to bring back, such as one on geriatrics,” Dr. Barron said. “So we tightened some elements of the curriculum while also adding some features that we feel will be valuable to our students.”

Jessica Hartos, PhD, Associate Professor, and Thomas Diver, MPAS, PA-C, Associate Director, played essential roles in the redesign of the new curriculum.

Camille Jones, President of the UNTHSC PA Student Association, said that the new 30-month curriculum should benefit future students.

“While UNTHSC has undoubtedly produced high-caliber, well-educated and quality PAs, its lengthy curriculum makes it the longest PA program in Texas,” she said. “Most students have had exposure to health care through previous jobs, internships or volunteering opportunities and we are eager to get out of our seats and start working with patients.”

Though the Health Science Center’s PA program is one of the most affordable in Texas, the financial benefit of a shorter curriculum for students is meaningful, said Dani Lutes, a second-year PA student.

“Moving to a 30-month program allows students that have federal and private loans to begin paying off debt sooner rather than later,” she said.

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