Northwestern physician assistant program to begin June 1

Among the vulnerabilities exposed by this spring’s pandemic is the need for more health care professionals. So the June 1 start of Northwestern College’s new master’s in physician assistant studies program is timely.

Twenty-four graduate students are in the first cohort, which includes students from Pakistan, Russia and Zimbabwe. The others are from seven Midwestern states and Maryland, North Carolina and Texas. Two are Northwestern College alumni.

Northwestern’s accredited program is explicitly faith-based and aimed at recruiting from and sending graduates to rural communities. “The faith integration is proving to be our biggest selling point,” says Dr. Christina Hanson, director of the program, followed by the intentional emphasis on rural care.

“The need for PAs is even greater in rural communities,” she says, noting that Iowa currently ranks 46th in the nation for the number of physicians per 100,000 patients. “The PA profession is key to improving patient access to care, and research has shown that growing up in a rural community is a key determinant—and is consistently associated with—choosing rural medical practice.”

Summer term classes will begin online to comply with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, but Hanson hopes to transition to in-person instruction in Van Peursem Hall’s newly renovated PA labs and classrooms in July.

Northwestern’s PA program is just the fifth one in Iowa; the others are in Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque and Iowa City. The next cohort begins in June 2021. Applications are due Aug. 1.