Physician Assistant Studies program faculty and staff. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

New Physician Assistant Studies Program accredited by the ARC-PA

Nov 18, 2020
Kathryne Davis

The Brenau University Physician Assistant Studies program met the final requirement for admitting students in January when it was granted provisional accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.

Since becoming chair of the PA program in July 2019, Dr. Julie Keena has been working hard with her team to make sure everything would be ready by the Jan. 11, 2021, start date for the 33 students joining the Ivester College of Health Sciences’s newest masters program. COVID-19 changed some plans, but the team was able to complete the final tasks virtually to become accredited.

“I’m ecstatic to be at Brenau,” Keena said. “I think the administration is so supportive of us, the PA profession and the entire academic community here.”

Provisional accreditation is the first of three steps in the accreditation process. The second step occurs within six months of the 2023 graduation of the first cohort and the third step follows 18-24 months later. Upon completion of the third step, the program becomes eligible for ‘accreditation – continued’ status. While the other steps remain to be completed, the ‘accreditation – provisional’ status allows graduates to take the national certification exam that is required to be initially licensed as a PA in all states.

New cohorts begin each spring in the 28-month program, which includes 16 months of didactic study, or time spent in the classroom, and 12 months of clinical rotations. Based at the Brenau University Downtown Center, program space was renovated to look like a doctor’s office and includes standard classrooms, as well as group rooms where students will learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills in small groups.

Keena said the PA faculty sets them “ahead of the game.”

“We’ve managed to hire faculty that have academic experience,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anybody on our faculty who hasn’t had prior academic experience at this point.”

The program’s medical director, Dr. Allen Butts, spent much of his career working as a surgeon in Gainesville, where his knowledge of the surrounding area helped ensure sufficient clinical placements for the first cohort of students. Brenau’s PA program already has the backing of the Gainesville medical community, and Butts said studies show people in the medical field tend to stay within 100 miles of where they train.

“Gainesville is used in a lot of other PA programs,” Butts said. “Brenau is local, so it would be beneficial to the community. The students tend to come from local areas. What better way to provide the community with a great medical staff than to just train them, and they may want to stay here. This community has always been a hub for great medical care.”

Dr. Gale Starich, dean of health sciences, said that she is proud the PA program has been accredited.

“We were among only eight programs nationally who were granted accreditation during this cycle,” she said. “This program has been in development since 2009 and could not have been realized without the leadership of Dr. Julie Keena, and the support of Dr. John Delzell Jr., vice president of medical education at Northeast Georgia Health System. We in the Ivester College of Health Sciences will continue to plan and grow the healthcare professional programs so critically needed in Hall County, Georgia and across America.”