issue Winter 2022

Physician Assistant Program: 30 Years Feeding a Growing Field

By Kelly Reiss
Members of the PA Class of 1994 engage with a guest lecturer in the classroom.

Gaining accreditation in 1991 and graduating its first baccalaureate class in the spring of 1993, the Physician Assistant (PA) Program at RFU celebrates 30 years of educating a vital part of America’s healthcare team that has a history as a profession dating back more than 50 years.

By 1994, there were 22,000 practicing PAs, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the need for a 68% increase in the PA workforce by the end of the decade. The profession had already gained the ability to practice in all 50 states, and students prepared for a national board examination post-graduation in 1991. RFU’s PA program began as part of the School of Related Health Sciences, now the College of Health Professions, holding classes in the renovated Veterans Administration buildings at the north end of the RFU campus before moving into the Health Sciences Building in 2002.

The program initially offered a baccalaureate degree and a post-professional studies pathway for practicing PAs to earn their bachelor’s degree through distance learning, spending one week on campus per quarter. The program swiftly gained the ability to offer a master’s degree that mirrored a shift in credentials for the entire profession.

As of 2020, there were almost 130,000 practicing PAs, working in offices, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities in a wide range of medical specialties. RFU is proud to have played a role in educating more than 1,500 of them.

A group of faculty and alumni from the PA program met with students in July 2019 to share experiences as PAs and thoughts about the future of their profession as part of the second annual “PA History Roundtable Discussion.”

A reflection of the profession’s ethos, the students and faculty in the PA department have built strong ties to serving the community. The department provided leadership and a volunteer workforce for numerous long-running, cooperative initiatives throughout Lake County, including the Kids 1st Health Fair, HealthReach Community Clinic, the Healthy Families Clinic and, through RFU’s mobile health unit, the Community Care Connection.