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Physician Assistant master’s degree Program Planned for May 2019

Applications are being accepted for FSU’s planned physician assistant (PA) master’s degree program, which received approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the University System of Maryland to be offered at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

The program, a Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies, is the result of a 2013 request from local and state health care leaders, who asked FSU to consider developing a program that would attract students who want to work and live in the Western Maryland region and surrounding areas. This request was in response to the growing shortage of health care providers in the region, a shortage brought on by increased demand for access to health care due to an aging population, aging physician population and increased access to health insurance from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

PAs are medical professionals who practice in every medical setting and diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and increasingly serve as a patient’s principal health-care provider.

“Soon after arriving at FSU in 2016, I saw the program’s development plan and was in full support,” said President Ronald Nowaczyk. “This initiative is exactly the type of program FSU wants to create to fulfill our commitment as a partner in workforce development in the region.

“The health-care industry is the largest employer in Maryland’s three westernmost counties,” he continued, “and FSU is a committed educational partner to assure we are responding to our regional needs. We also recognize FSU’s role in helping to improve health in rural Maryland by educating health-care providers to care for the citizens of the state.”

“This program has been made possible through a true, collaborative community effort,” said Beth Smolko, director of FSU’s PA program. “We have been overwhelmed by the support shown to us from regional health systems, particularly Meritus Health System and Western Maryland Health System. We are also grateful to local philanthropists, the Appalachian Regional Commission, local and state political leaders, USM Board of Regents, USM at Hagerstown and regional physicians and advanced practice providers, particularly Dr. Sean McCagh, who was part of the group to bring the idea to FSU. Without this collaboration, this program would not be possible.”

Smolko added that physician assistant programs are known to be among some of the most difficult programs to develop to full implementation due to the rigorous accreditation standards and need for resources.

“The support of our community partners has truly set this program in motion for success because it is built on a foundation of partnership and a mission to develop PAs who want to serve rural and medically underserved communities, like those found in Western Maryland and surrounding areas,” Smolko said.

The program will be offered at USMH, thanks to the partnership of Meritus Health System, which has provided the facility for the program; the Appalachian Regional Commission; and local philanthropists who provided funding to assist with the renovation and equipment purchase.

The program will be taught at the USMH Agnita Stine Schreiber Health Science Center, 24 Walnut St., in Hagerstown.

FSU has applied for Accreditation-Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). FSU anticipates matriculating its first class in May 2019, pending achieving Accreditation-Provisional status at the March 2019 ARC-PA meeting. Accreditation-Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students, if fully implemented as planned, appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA standards or when a program holding Accreditation-Provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class of students.


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