University plans for new medical program

Nisheeka Simmons, Staff Writer

The Francis Marion University Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to approve the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies Degree Program.

According Dr. Peter King, associate provost and professor of biology, the program is proposed to begin in August of 2016. King said that FMU is awaiting final accreditation of the program from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education and the national accreditation body for physician assistant programs.

“We are not allowed to officially take on any students until the accrediting board for PA [physician assistant] programs has approved,” King said. “We will have our site visit from people from that accrediting board here in October 2015 and then they will consider our proposal at a meeting in March 2016.”

King said the highly competitive program proposes to accept 30 students for the first semester. King went on to explain that the physician assistant program is in part a response to the needs of the state.

King explained that due to lack of programs in S.C., these types of medical professionals are also in short supply.

“In other states, for example, in North Carolina, there is going to be soon about 12 physician assistant programs,” King said. “There is only one other physician assistant program in the state, and that is at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).”

According to King, in order to apply to the program, students must first attain a bachelor’s degree and complete a certain number of prerequisites. Along with taking courses in anatomy, physiology, an organic chemistry, applying students must also present their Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) scores.

King also explained that as a part of the expansion of FMU’s health sciences, the university has obtained permission from the state to build a new health science facility.

King said the building will be located in the downtown area of Florence and will house the physician assistant program, nurse practitioner program and the third and fourth year students from the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine.

“We are looking forward to the interaction between those people in what we call inter-professional education,” King said. “There will be some classes that these students have in common because when our PA students go out into the workforce, they will be working with physicians, nurse practitioners and other people in teams.”

Dr. Ruth Wittmann-Price, chair of the nursing department, was also excited about the future inter-professional simulation laboratory.

Wittmann-Price said that the physician’s assistant program consists of 102 semester hours which will be earned over the course of 27 months and one year of clinical practice.

She explained that students in the physician’s assistant program will share selected classes and resources with the students in the Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner Degree Program that began in January.

“We are in the process of hiring a director for the program now,” Wittmann-Price said. “We have already hired Dr. Paul DeMarco as the medical director. He is helping to develop the program along with Dr. Peter King.”