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University of Utah, Dixie State partner to offer PA program in Southern Utah


ST. GEORGE, Utah – Dixie State University and the University of Utah School of Medicine are in the planning stages of a new partnership that would offer a Physician Assistant (PA) Program in Southern Utah.

Current projections are that the program will welcome its first cohort of students in May 2018. The master's program will be accredited as a satellite of the University PA Program and operate collaboratively with Dixie State.

"The University of Utah's Physician Assistant Program has the expertise and is very respected," Carole Grady, Dixie's interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said. "The U's program is fully accredited, and it's one of the best PA programs in the country. We are very fortunate to have the program offered in southern Utah."

The program will start small, accepting approximately 15 students the first year. The U's PA program, which has been in existence for 46 years, prepares students to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses and provide treatment, collaboratively with their supervising physician.

"Expanding the University of Utah Physician Assistant program to a satellite campus at Dixie State University will add a welcome new dimension to our mission of optimizing access to health care and health care careers to all the people of our state," Dr. John C Houchins, chief of the Division of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said. "The Utah state system of higher education is intended to improve the quality of life of Utah's residents through education and service. This partnership exemplifies that principle."

For the first 15 months of the 27-month program, students will be taught primarily in a classroom setting in Dixie's Russell C. Taylor Health Science Building, which is equipped with the offices, classrooms and exam rooms necessary for the program. The universities are also working with Dixie Regional Medical Center and other regional providers to allow students to work with physicians in the community during their second year of the program for their clinical preceptorships. The training will prove invaluable as the need for these professionals increases.

"The community will be in critical need of physician assistants," said Grady, who was the dean of Dixie's School of Health Sciences prior to being appointed interim provost. "With the changes that have been occurring with the Affordable Care Act providing access to health care for more individuals, there is going to be an increasing need for mid-level providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners."

The physician assistant program is just the beginning of what the two schools anticipate will become a long-lasting collaborative effort. The universities' partnership is likely to produce graduate programs in physical therapy and occupational therapy in the future.

"We're excited about being able to provide the opportunity to students in our local community," Grady said. "The Physician Assistant Program will be a great benefit to the community. It's an opportunity to prepare very well qualified physician assistants to fulfill the healthcare needs of the community."