Brescia University began conducting a feasibility study more than a year ago to examine the statewide shortage of healthcare workers and work towards developing a Physician Assistant Program. Currently, there are no Physician Assistant Programs in Western Kentucky, and only three in the state. The need for physician assistants is projected to grow by 28 percent through 2031 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This program received startup funding from Healthforce Kentucky to support the new PA program. HealthForce Kentucky is an effort to inspire careers in health care by providing wider access to the highest levels of instruction and technology. This unique collaboration involves nine colleges and universities along with numerous school districts across 16 counties in Western Kentucky. The shortages in health care professionals is a national, if not global, phenomenon that impacts the quality and availability of health care services. The Commonwealth of Kentucky chose to invest in an initiative to address this crisis, passing legislation to authorize funding of 38 million dollars. As part of the collaboration, the post-secondary institutions and the P-12 districts will work to share instructors and resources to provide more offerings among the districts and post-secondary institutions to expand class availability while also reducing the cost of instruction. As HealthForce Kentucky does not provide any degrees or diplomas, the collaboration with these institutions and usage of shared resources is key in reaching more talented students in the 16-county footprint.
Bart Darrell, Chancellor of HealthForce Kentucky, said of the proposed program, “The proposed Physician Assistant degree program for Owensboro, Daviess County, and this region of Kentucky is a groundbreaking advancement in health care quality and access. HealthForce Kentucky is proud to be part of this new health care career pathway. This is the first of many new collaborations in which HealthForce Kentucky will be involved as a partner with our postsecondary and P-12 education partners, along with our health care institutions.” He continued to say, “There is an abundance of talent within our region. HealthForce Kentucky will partner on initiatives like this first ever Physician Assistant program in Owensboro, to ensure that we keep as many of our best and brightest ‘at home’, so that the region offers a broad range of health care with quality second to none.” Darrell also mentioned, “Accessible, high quality health care also provides benefits to the region far beyond a healthier population. It also spurs health economic growth, civic engagement, cultural enhancement, and, quite simply, happier lives. HealthForce Kentucky congratulates all involved in this Physician Assistant initiative.”
The University is currently conducting a national search for a physician assistant program director and is pursuing provisional accreditation, a status granted to new PA programs, from the Accreditation Review Council for Physician Assistants (ARC-PA). Provisional accreditation lasts no less than two years and more than 5 years. Brescia University will be able to accept students during the provisional status.
As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states can write prescriptions. Because of the close working relationship PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in a medical model designed to complement physician training. PA students are taught, as are medical students, to diagnose and treat medical problems. PAs work in diverse medical and surgical settings, including family and internal medicine, emergency departments, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and surgical sub-specialties, and mental and behavioral health care.
Education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine.
The PA Program has an anticipated length of 27 months, with the hope to accept the first cohort of students in the Spring of 2026. Brescia University will work closely with Owensboro Health for clinical site rotations and staffing.
Brescia University Executive Vice President, Lauren McCrary, Ed.D. said of the PA program progress, “The path to accreditation will be necessarily tough, but we are up for the challenge. We hope to get on the first available slot of the accreditors in summer 2025 and start accepting students soon after the site visit. That gives us about a year and a half to get ready. Our next step is to work to get a program director hired as soon as possible to start developing the program.” McCrary also stated, “This will be such an asset to Owensboro, Western Kentucky, and the entire state as Brescia joins the efforts to make sure every Kentuckian has reliable access to healthcare.”