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Oklahoma City University Announces Development of New Physician Assistant Program

The Oklahoma City University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support University President and CEO Robert Henry’s initiative to develop a new training program for Physician Assistants (PAs) at OCU.

“The Oklahoma City University PA program will be only the second in the state,” said Ron Norick, chair of the OCU Board of Trustees.  “Our trustees and administration recognized a growing need and set out to build a program that benefits the future of our students and our state.”

President Robert Henry said the program is designed to meet the critical need for more highly trained medical providers throughout Oklahoma.  “At OCU, our class sizes, challenging academics, and personal teaching style are conducive for students who want to excel in the PA profession.”

PAs undergo intense graduate training in the medical arts and sciences, and are licensed by the Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure & Supervision to provide medical care in a team-based manner with their physician colleagues and supervisors.

Created in 1965 at Duke University, the PA program has seen tremendous growth in Oklahoma and across the nation due to the quality of medical care delivered in all types of practice settings. The U.S. Labor Department projects a 30 percent increase in employment for PAs over the next seven years, the highest average rate for all occupations. Approximately 90,000 PAs practice in the U.S., with 1,200 working PAs in Oklahoma.

“With the addition of the PA program, OCU continues to build on a great tradition of educating students for the medical and primary care professions,” said OCU Provost Susan Barber. “OCU graduates are excelling in their chosen fields as PAs, physical therapists, dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians and in medical research. On average, 86 percent of our graduates who apply for medical school are accepted on the first try. Our Kramer School of Nursing students are exceptional in their practice areas, with an 88 percent pass rate for the NCLEX-RN licensure exam, which is significantly higher than the national and statewide averages. Last year we started a successful nursing doctorate program.  The PA training initiative is one more example of OCU’s rigorous academic programs connecting students with quality faculty and top careers.”

Barber said OCU has hired longtime medical educators Dan McNeill, Ph.D., PA-C, and Jerry Vannatta, M.D., to develop the program. Dr. McNeill has been named director and brings with him two decades of experience as former director of the PA program on the OU Health Sciences Center campus.  Dr. Vannatta, former executive dean of the OU College of Medicine, will serve as OCU program medical director and will be instrumental in curricular design and clinical site development following his retirement from OU in June 2014.

The OCU program will focus on graduating PAs with a strong emphasis on providing primary care in community hospitals and clinics.  OCU expects to matriculate its inaugural class in January 2016. 

“It is clear that primary care is in need of help from PAs and nurse practitioners in this rapidly developing healthcare environment,” said Vannatta. “OCU is in an excellent position to do its part in providing both.  This new PA education program will be helpful in meeting Oklahoma's healthcare challenges.”