Spotlight on the Department of Physician Assistant Studies

By Editor Role

Fortunately, in-person instruction and gatherings returned to UAMS to benefit the Class of 2024. In May, our White Coat Ceremony for these newer students was the first time that we were able to have family and friends together in the auditorium since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I was informed just before the event that this was the largest audience they’ve had in this auditorium since the pandemic began.

Our program has a rigorous curriculum consisting of a 13-month didactic phase and a 15-month clinical phase totaling a 28-month curriculum. This dense curriculum requires a rigorous amount of time and effort for every student in the program. For example, our clinical phase consists of 10 core rotations, each five credit hours and five weeks long. Along with two elective rotations, both three weeks in length, students gain over 2,200 hours of clinical experience.

Edward William, chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies in the UAMS College of Health Professions

Edward Williams, DMSc, M.Ed., PA-C, chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies in the UAMS College of Health Professions

In August, the class of 2022 graduated from our program. They were the first class that started virtually. Because of the disruptions in schedule and planning caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the department’s faculty and administration eventually realized the students were not going to be on campus for in-person classes in 2020. This program and other PA programs across the nation were not designed for that. We worked with what we had, and they did a fine job. Not only did they do well, but they also have exceeded expectations in a lot of the standards we test them for, when compared to other classes. They impressed us with what they did.

The program offers several unique educational opportunities, including small class sizes, direct patient encounters by the fifth week of the program, and weekly small-group case-based clinical reasoning courses occurring over three semesters.

We have also implemented a mindfulness training program in the first semester to promote student/provider wellness and to help combat student/provider burnout. There is an emphasis on the elements to be an excellent medical provider, such as patient-and family-centered medicine, cultural humility, clinical application of knowledge, critical thinking skills, evidence-based medicine, and inter-professional education.

Our program also demonstrates diversity in our faculty and staff regarding clinical expertise, cultural, and social-economic upbringing. This level of diversity contributes to the wide variety of teaching approaches and fosters strong relationships with student advisees. Currently, 18% of our faculty (national avg. is 14%) and 33% of our staff identify as from an under-represented minority (URM) for a total of 24% URM faculty and staff within our program.

In addition to creating a profession that reflects the patient population, the program is committed to and engaged in the community and the people of Arkansas. Since inception, students have sponsored a Heroes Against Hunger fundraiser, which culminates into a 5K fun run the first or second weekend in October, at the start of PA Week. To date, over $75,000 has been raised for the Arkansas Food Bank’s Kids Backpack program. This program provides K-12 students experiencing food insecurity with weekend meals that are easy to prepare, kid-friendly, and nutritious. The PA program’s curriculum includes 15 hours of service-learning activities where students engage with partners to address needs and disparities of the communities ranging across the lifespan. Students, along with several faculty, also serve at the UAMS 12th Street Health and Wellness Center.

This type of commitment has resulted in the program being nominated as an Outstanding Volunteer Organization and spotlighted in Inviting Arkansas magazine.

Some faculty graduated these past several months from degree programs as well. Amber Teigen, PA-C, completed a 20-month doctoral program with a concentration in Healthcare Professions Education track in August 2022 and was conferred with a Doctor of Medical Science degree on Aug. 19.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant also accepted Dr. Teigen, as a Site Visitor for its accreditation body. Amber was selected from a pool of PA and physician educators, clinically practicing PAs, and others involved in PA education. She is expected to participate in two or three program site visits each calendar year. Site visitors serve a critical role in providing information to the ARC-PA about a PA program’s demonstrated compliance with the Standards and act as the “eyes and ears” of the Commission.

On a personal note, last year I also earned a doctor of medical science – education degree and at the start of 2023 started serving as a facilitator for the New Program Director Workshops for the Physician Assistant Education Association  (PAEA).

Finally, the UAMS PA Program along with Harding University PA program faculty and students joined on Oct. 7 with representatives from the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants (ARAPA) and then Governor Asa Hutchinson to declare Arkansas PA Day. This event was a part of the 2022 PA week.

As we continue to develop and grow, the program has many goals for the future. The program’s future direction can be summarized in our vision statement: The UAMS Physician Assistant program will lead the region in innovative physician assistant education, advancement of the profession, and transformative healthcare by embracing cultural humility and inclusivity, intentional patient and professional advocacy, and collaborative service.