Published on October 16, 2019 by Sara Roman  

In 2013, Samford University approved the establishment of a physician assistant studies program within the School of Health Professions. Six years later, the program’s inaugural class of 36 has arrived on campus. 

Samford’s physician assistant (PA) studies program is the only private program in the state of Alabama and the first PA program in Alabama to launch in nearly 20 years.

“The launch of the physician assistant program is a significant achievement,” said Alan Jung, School of Health Professions dean. “We are proud to offer this new degree program that supports the College of Health Sciences mission to promote and improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”

With an aging population and looming shortage of doctors, there is a growing demand for physician assistants to provide routine health care.

“We are continuing to see an increased need for health care professionals,” said Jung. “In Alabama, 53 of our 67 counties are medically underserved. Graduates of our program will provide relief in many areas as they examine, diagnose and treat patients.”

As a private, Christian institution, Samford’s physician assistant studies program is able to offer distinctively small class sizes. At full capacity, the student-to-faculty ratio will be half of what is found at other institutions in the state.

“The low ratios allow faculty to be truly invested in each student’s education and affords students with a tailored experience,” said Paul Harrelson, assistant professor and program director. “We believe small class sizes are key to producing highly prepared, quality graduates.”

Cumulatively, the program’s faculty have nearly 30 years experience in physician assistant education. They have utilized their experiences to build what they believe is an outstanding curriculum to best prepare future physician assistants.

According to Harrelson, the faculty have solidified more than 600 exceptional clinical slots and established a trajectory for strong cohorts that maintain low student-to-faculty ratios.

This fall, students will dive into curriculum with a heavy focus on anatomy and physiology. Throughout the program, students will gain experience with surgery, physical diagnosis, clinical medicine and pharmacology. Their generalist training will prepare them for a variety of medical fields and subspecialties. However, the program is designed to not only develop students academically but also spiritually.

“Our program is anchored in a Christian understanding and seeks to develop graduates who are prepared to fulfill their calling by providing empathetic patient care and service to the community,” said Harrelson.

The program’s theme verse is Jeremiah 30:17. “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD.”

The inaugural class of 36 were selected from a highly competitive group of more than 300 applicants. The cohort comes to Birmingham from 11 states, with 23 students from Alabama. They have a diverse background of undergraduate studies including kinesiology, biological sciences, nutrition and international studies. At the culmination of the seven-semester program, graduates will earn a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

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