Northwestern PA program achieves accreditation

Northwestern College’s master’s degree program in physician assistant (PA) studies has received the green light college officials were waiting for: accreditation-provisional, which is the initial accreditation status for new programs.

Program Director Dr. Christina Hanson and Medical Director Dr. Alan Laird had reason to expect accreditation success after a May 2019 site visit with “no observations”—or areas requiring improvement—from the reviewers, which is rare. “Still,” says Hanson, “it’s exciting to have the official go-ahead.”

Preparations for the 27-month on-site graduate program have been underway since before the May visit. PA faculty and staff are hired, and construction crews are renovating Van Peursem Hall classrooms and labs that were vacated when the biology and chemistry undergraduate programs moved into the DeWitt Family Science Center. The redesigned spaces will accommodate equipment for teaching physician assistant students, such as treatment tables, virtual cadaver tables and gross anatomy dissection tables.

Northwestern’s faith-based PA program will enroll up to 32 students each year. Although the first cohort is not yet finalized, Hanson and her team spent the fall months reviewing applications and invited more than 50 applicants to interview.

“Selection of students for the first cohort is particularly important, as their results when they take the board exam will set Northwestern’s first-time pass rate,” explains Hanson. “That metric will be crucial for continuing accreditation.”

Now that the program has achieved accreditation, Hanson expects the number of future applications to be similar to what she experienced at her former institution, which routinely received around 20 times more applications than open seats in the program.