ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca College has announced the establishment of its Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program, calling it a “historic milestone in the evolution of Ithaca College.”

The program is “designed to attract college graduates pursuing health care careers and who come from undergraduate pre-health profession programs such as health sciences, exercise science, athletic training, biology, chemistry, biochemistry and psychology.” According to the school, the initial class this fall will have around 30 students, and the school plans to continue to expand it until a maximum capacity of 50 students per class.

The program will be partially housed in the former Rothschild Building on the Commons in downtown Ithaca, where the school is using money from New York State to construct and renovate the facilities inside there—school officials realized more space was needed for clinical practice areas, which will contain a clinical learning center and a simulation center. IC was given $1.6 million to help with the project, titled The Ithacan, which will also hold other academic programs. The college also touts the speed at which PA is growing in popularity as a profession—expected to increase 31 percent over the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“This supplemental instructional site will bring PA students and faculty to the center of the community that they will help serve,” the school said.

IC officials defined the Physician Assistant as a medical professional who diagnoses illness, develops and manages treatment plans, prescribes medications, and often serves as a patient’s principal health care provider in collaboration with a physician. The program will take 27 months to complete.

It is some welcome positive news for the school, which has been the object of much scrutiny during the last eight or so months—particularly since announcing its plans to cut over 100 faculty members, ostensibly to streamline the school and due to financial concerns.

The launch of this program represents a historic milestone in the evolution of Ithaca College, anchored in our roots of theory, practice, and performance,” said President Shirley M. Collado. “This moment reflects the tremendous collaborative effort of so many members of our Ithaca College community, whose determination and focused vision activated a reality that is aligned not only with the college’s strategic plan, but also with our fierce commitment to be a private college that serves the public good. This program will provide rich and relevant educational opportunities for students and support key areas of need within our region.”

“Because there’s such a great need for providers in this region, a way to get people to relocate here is to have the program in this region and for them to experience it and fall in love with it, and then stay,” said Susan Salahshor, director of the PA program.

The program’s focus areas will include rural medicine, family medicine, behavioral and mental health care, population and community health, and interprofessional education and practice. Having the program here could also help with behavioral and mental health needs locally, Salahshor said.

Dr. Martin Stallone, president and chief executive officer of Cayuga Health System, applauded the new program and said he is looking forward to the system playing a major role in the clinical education of IC’s students.

“Ithaca College and Cayuga Health are mutually committed to training practitioners who are skilled at delivering health care to rural populations and to enhancing the health care services available in our community and surrounding areas,” Stallone said. “The PA program builds on past successes of other collaborative clinical programs between Cayuga Health and Ithaca College, like physical therapy and sports medicine.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com