May 5, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 18

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PA studies program approved for School of Allied Health Sciences

The School of Allied Health Sciences will soon add another degree program to its roster—the Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board last month authorized the Health Science Center to offer the degree, following accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The Health Science Center already participates in the cooperative Interservice PA Program at Fort Sam Houston, but the board's decision will allow the university to offer its own program.

Dr. J. Dennis Blessing, formerly of The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, is the newly appointed chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. He said the new class of 20 PA Studies candidates will begin in the fall. Students will spend roughly 30 months in the program, studying much of what first- and second-year medical students do, though in a slightly abbreviated form. The emphasis, said Dr. Blessing, is on experiential learning, and the standard of care for physician assistants is the same as that of a medical doctor.

"We want to provide our students with the tools they need to evaluate, assess and begin to manage patient care. Our enrolled students in the PA program will be expected to study and continue to develop as health care professionals," he said.

Dr. Blessing expects to hire an academics coordinator to join Judith Colver, clinical coordinator, who has been acting chair of the department. He also looks forward to collaborating with the School of Nursing and its nurse practitioner program.

Dr. Blessing sees a good job market for PA's in Texas. "There are a lot of good opportunities here. We have not overloaded the market, as some other states have."

Dr. Blessing received his Ph.D. in Adult, Occupational and Continuing Education at Kansas State University, following a Master's in Health Administration from Wichita State University. After getting a degree in biology from Sam Houston State University, he was trained as a physician assistant at Duke University, where the field of PA Studies originated in 1965.

Dr. Blessing is interested in conducting a longitudinal study of the PA job market. He has edited two books coming out this year: the Physician Assistant Research Handbook, published by F.A. Davis, and a problem-based learning textbook.