If you were going to build a degree program from scratch, what would you put into the mix?
How about equity, diversity, cultural understanding, kindness? Would you also toss in student-centered, compassionate, academically rigorous, holistic?
For the last two years, Lawrence Tech has been building exactly that kind of Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and officially launched it with its student orientation in August. LTU had tapped Aimee Lamb, noted Physician Assistant, to lead the establishment of its new master’s degree program. Lamb is director of the Physician Assistant Program and assistant professor in the Department of Natural Sciences. Among her many career achievements, she was one of a group of 12 PAs that established the PA profession in the UK and assisted with the development of the first PA program in England.
– Aimee Lamb
She said, “We’re very dedicated to providing a positive, nurturing, student-centered experience to every student, doing everything we can to promote learning built on a foundation of kindness, empathy, and compassion.”
“Diversity” is a strong marker of this new program. Over 70 percent of practicing PAs are white women. While that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, as she notes, “it does not reflect the diversity among our patients or our community.” All LTU’s PA faculty undergo extensive and ongoing diversity and implicit bias training as our commitment to changing these statistics. “We are quite literally trying to change the face of our profession. Our faculty fit what we’re looking for in healthcare providers. We’re about building a professional family.” At orientation, each student was paired with an advisor/mentor to support them throughout their journey in whatever ways they need.
As a brand-new program, more than 250 applicants sought one of the 30 openings in the inaugural cohort. Lamb explained that, to ensure diversity among incoming students, she and PA faculty Kenneth Early, Charles Regan, Rania Krayem, and Janet Burns, with PA program coordinator Elizabeth Porter and clinical coordinator Robin Ochoa, evaluated each applicant on several criteria, not just GRE scores or GPA. “We evaluate the applicants holistically, not just their numbers. It’s about getting at who an individual is,” she said.
LTU’s program, like all others, is incredibly intense. PA students are on campus about 40 hours a week and can expect to study an additional 40 hours. Dr. Srini Kambhampati , dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, described LTU’s commitment to the entire PA student experience. “We’ve kept our cohort small, just 30 students, to provide them with a lot more individualized attention. We’ve constructed new and spacious classrooms and a new lab. The ‘classatory,’ as Aimee likes to call it, has 15 exam beds so that all students can maximize their learning time in the lab. There’s a separate lounge for PA students to study or to relax.”
There are 10 accredited PA programs in Michigan alone. Why did LTU embark on a new Physician Assistant master’s degree? “The PA profession is one of the fastest growing professions, as reported by US Labor Statistics. Last year, US New & World Report called PA the number one healthcare job, the number one overall job, and the number one STEM job. Actually, Southeast Michigan has a huge medical need that can be met by dedicated PAs,” Lamb said.
In addition to the human qualities of the program, what makes LTU’s program unique is its collaboration with Ascension Health. Lamb explained, “For our PA students, it means the opportunity to learn all the different clinical procedures in Ascension’s multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art simulation lab, which is integral to the curriculum. Our students will also train in their human cadaver lab, a distinction of LTU’s program made possible by of our relationship with Ascension. We’re making sure that we have the absolute highest level of training facilities available for our students.”
At the same time Lamb and fellow faculty members were designing curricula, designing class and lab space, and designing a new student experience, they applied for accreditation by the ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.). Indeed, months of work, 1,000 pages of documentation, and a two-day site visit resulted in provisional accreditation, received in March, a milestone that was required prior to matriculating any students to the new program.
Phillip Pham had never been to Michigan. His parents fled Vietnam during the war and lived in Philippine refugee camps where Phillip was born. He resides in California and graduated from the University of California Davis. On weekends, he volunteers translating for Vietnamese patients as a way to give back to his community. Not knowing what career he wanted to pursue, he took a job as a hospital medical scribe to figure that out as well as figure out how to help people who are disadvantaged due to language barriers. Pham said, “That really sparked my interest in medicine. I really want to help with the health disparity issues people face.”
Pham shadowed three PAs in his hospital, one an Internal Medicine PA, one a Gastroenterology PA, and an Emergency Room PA named Paul, who too is Vietnamese. “I watched how Paul comforted his patients, how he related to them, and how he educated them. Seeing the smiles on the patient's faces, it became really personal to me," Pham said. "Because I always helped my parents who can’t speak English with all their doctor visits, it reminded me of what my parents had to go through.”
He learned that PAs generally spend more time with their patients. That interaction and patient education are two of the cornerstones of the PA profession.
Why did he choose LTU? First and foremost, they were friendly and caring. “Aimee contacted me the same day I inquired and told me everything about her plans for my success,” Pham said. Second was LTU’s collaboration with Ascension, particularly the cadaver lab and the chance to do clinical rotations with Ascension providers, which is integral to the curriculum. Third, on-campus housing. “It means a lot to me that LTU puts the student first. Their mission is to promote advocacy in the student’s community, my community, many from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“Coming from two parents who worked in nail salons to raise my three sisters and me, I didn’t want their sacrifice to be in vain,” he said.
You can almost hear Director Lamb and Professors Regan, Early, and Krayem saying, “We won’t let that happen, Phillip!”
by Renée Ahee