Harding University’s Physician Assistant alpha class began on June 6, 2005. This class of 16 students was made up of 5 men and 11 women representing 6 different states. ARC-PA, the accrediting body for the education of Physician Assistants, awarded the “Certificate of Accreditation” to Harding’s program in March of 2005. This accreditation status was provisional, which is the only status a new program can achieve. In September of 2007, continuing accreditation status was awarded by ARC-PA.
A regional needs assessment study at that time revealed there were 132 physician assistant programs in the United States, but no program in Arkansas. There were eight programs in Texas, but the five states surrounding Arkansas had only six programs, with none in Mississippi. This regional program distribution provided only 200 student positions annually for a five state region. Government statistics indicated that Arkansas ranked 47th in the US since 2000 for availability of primary care physicians and for nonfederal physicians per capita. These same documents also indicate that Arkansas ranked 49th in the US for the number of PAs per capita. A survey of other state and private schools revealed no immediate plans to begin a PA school.
A growing number of students are entering the physician assistant profession. A summary statement presented to the Board of Trustees declared, “Harding already has an excellent tradition in health-related programs, including strong programs for premedical students, nursing, and other pre-professional health fields. A physician assistant program at Harding would train its graduates to use their God-given talents to serve those in need through compassionate, high-quality medical treatment. Harding is an ideal university to house a program with an emphasis on serving the underserved whether the patients are in foreign lands or in the Delta area of Arkansas.”
The alpha class graduated on July 28, 2007. By that date, the 2nd class had already begun their clinical phase and the 3rd class was half way through their first semester. We have now graduated 3 classes and are admitting our 6th class.
A difference can be made in the health care for the people of Arkansas and nationwide, but more importantly Harding’s Physician Assistant program can help in developing knowledgeable and caring health care professionals who provide highly competent patient-centered primary medical care in diverse environments.