MTSU’s New Physician Assistant Studies Celebrates First Public PA Program in Middle Tennessee

The first cohort of Middle Tennessee State University’s new Physician Assistant Studies graduate program of 30 students attends its grand opening event in their gray scrubs at the Cason Kennedy Nursing Building on campus on May 13, 2022. (MTSU photo by J Intintoli)

MTSU’s new Physician Assistant Studies, or PA, graduate program has been a decade in the making, and the university marked the occasion with a grand opening event last month.

“It was an opportunity to make people aware of our existence and who we are since a lot of the work was done during COVID and people may not be aware,” said Marie Patterson, the program’s director. “It was also a way for us to showcase our students and our innovative equipment.”

Marie Patterson, director of Middle Tennessee State University’s new Physician Assistant Studies graduate program, third from left, cuts a ribbon at the program’s grand opening event at the Cason Kennedy Nursing Building on campus on May 13, 2022. Standing, from left, are Travis Layne, director of didactic education, MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes, Patterson and Shannon Colvin, director of clinical education. (MTSU photo by J Intintoli)

Held in the lobby of the Cason Kennedy Nursing Building on campus, the celebration included a ribbon cutting, tour of the new lab space, food and drink and comments from University Provost Mark Byrnes, Patterson and Dawn McCormack, associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies.

“This is a day that we have been working toward for years,” Byrnes said in recognizing those who made the program a reality, Patterson especially.

“The medical community here in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County are very supportive of this,” he added. “It’s the only public program in the middle part of Tennessee…. We’re so excited for this day, so excited that these students are here (to celebrate) with us.”

McCormack welcomed the inaugural cohort of PA students and the program’s faculty and staff to the MTSU family and looked forward to all the wonderful things they will accomplish. Successful candidates in the 27-month program will earn a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

Physician assistants are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease, prescribe medication, and perform procedures. They work in collaboration with licensed physicians in a variety of settings including hospitals and clinics.

Travis Layne, Middle Tennessee State University director of didactic education, far right, demonstrates a technique on a medical mannequin to students during the grand opening event for the university’s new Physician Assistant Studies graduate program at the Cason Kennedy Nursing Building on campus on May 13, 2022. (MTSU photo by J Intintoli)

“The College of Graduate Studies is proud to be part of this new program, which will have a significant and tangible impact on many communities in our region and beyond,” McCormack said. “Some of these students aim to serve rural communities where high-quality health care is not currently available.”

After the remarks, the program’s first cohort of 30 students, donning gray scrubs, and other attendees explored the PA lab space. Designed to simulate a myriad of real medical facilities, the lab consists of classrooms and mock treatment rooms full of cutting-edge technology — medical mannequins that bleed and scream, human anatomy virtual reality, invasive procedures trainers and more.

Patterson, a Murfreesboro resident since age 5, worked in the university’s Student Health Services clinic for over 10 years before moving into academia. In addition to being the program’s director, Patterson will also be teaching and said she loves being in the classroom and connecting with students.

“I was always hoping that MTSU would start a PA program and would often tell students that shadowed me in the clinic that I would love for that to happen and to be a part of it,” she said.

Now at its helm, Patterson helped craft a Blue Raider PA program that is unique in the state: it has the lowest tuition, an innovative curriculum and a commitment to diversity and community service.

A minimum of 30% of admitted students come from diverse backgrounds such as veterans, from medically underserved areas, are first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged or are bilingual, Patterson said.

“We are also incorporating time in the schedule for students to volunteer with an organization of their choosing with the hope that they will build a love of community service that they will continue for a lifetime,” she said. “We have an active learning environment with a focus on innovating curriculum and medical equipment such as point-of-care ultrasound. Each student will receive a Butterfly (handheld) ultrasound device that they will train on and keep after they graduate so that they can use it in clinical practice.”

Physician Assistant is one of the fastest growing occupational sectors in the Midstate, with a growth rate of 42% and with one-third of all PA positions in Tennessee located in the Metro Nashville area.

The second cohort begins May 2023 and is open for application. Those interested can visit the Physician Assistant Studies program website to learn more and begin the application process via the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants, or CASPA, linked there.

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