UAMS Physician Assistant Program Achieves Accreditation

By Ben Boulden

The program, established in 2011 in the UAMS College of Health Professions, will be a full-time, 28-month master’s degree program. The first group of 26 physician assistant students recently accepted to the program will begin classes in May.

“Creating the UAMS physician assistant program fills a critical need for improving access to medical care in Arkansas by expanding our ability to produce health care professionals who can see and treat patients,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “With our ability to increase medical school enrollment limited in part by funding for medical residency positions in the state, professionals such as physician assistants are another way to improve health care access in Arkansas.”

Physician assistants take patient medical histories, conduct physical exams, order diagnostic tests, diagnose medical conditions, write prescriptions and manage acute illness and chronic disease with the supervision of a physician. UAMS physician assistant students will receive classroom instruction and in addition to clinical experience treating actual patients in clinics and hospitals.

“Our goal has been to build a high-quality physician assistant program at UAMS,” said Patricia Kelly, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “We’re pleased to receive our accreditation and are ready to move full-speed ahead to welcome our first students to campus and start classes.”

Kelly joined the UAMS faculty in 2011 to build the program and lead it through the accreditation process. Kelly, who has experience in both the academic and clinical sides of the profession, previously served as associate program director and director of curriculum for the physician assistant program at Mercer University in Atlanta.

Renovations are nearing completion for a building with resources to house small-group courses for the program. The 4,049-square-foot building, a part of the former state hospital complex that the UAMS College of Health Professions moved into in 2009, includes two laboratory spaces where students will receive hands-on practice.

A physical exam lab will include 11 clinical exam tables where students will practice taking patient histories and learn skills for performing physical exams. Another lab will provide space for teaching procedures such as casting, suturing and lumbar puncture.

Kelly is making plans to grow quickly, expanding first-year enrollment to 30 students next year.  

Arkansas ranks 49th in the nation for the number of practicing physician assistants, so the program may be unfamiliar among physicians. Kelly said the program also will work to raise awareness of the profession and its benefits among Arkansas physicians and help prepare physicians who host students while they gain further clinical experience.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 775 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit or