LHU professor Walt Eisenhauer looks on as PA student practice proper casting technique.
The Lock Haven University physician assistant program was the first of its kind in the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) when it began in 1996, and has since continued to build on its reputation as a national leader for supplying underserved populations with much needed quality healthcare providers.
The United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with many healthcare insecurity hotspots concentrated across the nation’s underserved rural communities.
Smarter, cost-effective strategies to respond to this projected shortage are emerging that call not only for more physicians but also for more physician assistants to meet the health care needs of rural populations. The Lock Haven University physician assistant program is responding to this challenge as a national leader in providing healthcare education.
In 2016, a national study conducted by The Rural Health Research and Policy Center ranked LHU seventh out of more than 230 PA programs’ success in returning graduates to rural and underserved communities. The purpose of the study was to identify PA training programs that produce high proportions and-or high numbers of rural PAs, and the characteristics of programs associated with such success.
“The program was started with a goal to serve traditionally underserved communities, many of them located in rural areas,” said Walt Eisenhauer, PA program professor and department chair.
At the program’s start, approximately 25 students graduated annually. Now, more than 20 years later, the LHU program has produced approximately 1,000 new PAs with an average annual graduation of 70 students, helping to fill the gap in terms of the increasing need for healthcare providers in the U.S.
Graduates are deployed across the U.S. and across all specialty areas with more than 65 percent of graduates remaining in the Commonwealth, more than 41 percent in primary care disciplines and approximately 20 percent choosing employment in health professional shortage areas or medically underserved communities.
Graduates have started their own businesses, risen to lead departments in prestigious healthcare systems and are employed in nearly all medical specialties as well as primary care. They also have completed prestigious post graduate residency programs, become commissioned officers in the U.S. military, become faculty and founded new PA programs and strive to improve health and healthcare across the globe.
Colby Welshans, a 2014 graduate in LHU’s PA program, is one of four LHU alums working as physician assistants at the UPMC Outpatient Center in McElhattan. Welshans said the six clinical rotations he completed as a student at LHU helped him gain hands-on experience in multiple areas of medicine, including family practice, orthopedics, cardiology, general surgery and senior living.
“You get to see many aspects of medicine in less than a year (through the rotations) and it really helps you determine where you want to go and what type of medicine you want to practice,” Welshans said.
“The faculty and staff of the PA program at Lock Haven University have worked hard to provide a high quality educational experience for our students,” Eisenhauer said. “Potential, current and former students benefit in the knowledge that they can receive a highly regarded, high quality education at ‘The Haven.’ ”
The PA program at LHU has been a campus leader in integrating technology into the classroom from day one and its innovative program delivery focuses on bringing together the four campuses — LHU main, Clearfield, Coudersport and Dixon University Center — that deliver content to the students in the program through a hybrid distance education model.
Students from each campus can view lectures remotely using video technology that utilizes a physical diagnosis lab and a cadaver lab. While the majority of the instruction is hands-on at each of the four campus locations, with a student-centered approach to case-based learning, the video technology allows them to interact and gain more information from others outside of the typical classroom experience.
“The ability for students to learn from instructors and specialty care providers across the state does a lot to increase students’ exposure to valuable material,” Eisenhauer said.
The video component also mirrors current trends in health care distribution across the country, particularly in rural areas where many of LHU’s PA program graduates eventually set up practice.
For more information about Lock Haven University’s physician assistant program, visit www.lockhaven.edu/physicianassistant/.
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Lock Haven University’s main campus is located on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the scenic mountains of Pennsylvania. The university offers 49 undergraduate majors and certifications with 47 minors and five graduate programs.
LHU is a member of Pennsylvania’s State System, the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas of study. Nearly 520,000 system alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
LHU students enrolled in the physician assistant program practice the process of casting one another.
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