DSU, U of U collaborate to bring physician assistant program

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Students will be able to start their journey to become physician assistants on Dixie State University’s campus this summer semester.

Sixteen students will receive a PA education through a University of Utah and DSU collaboration. This partnership will also branch out to the physical therapy and occupational therapy when the new Human Performance Center is completed, expected to be fall 2019.

Eliezer Bermudez, dean of college of health sciences, said the PA program will be run through the U of U for the first accreditation cycle, which is different for every program but will be a few years, and then DSU will have the chance to take over.

“Students have access to everything Dixie students have access to,” Bermudez said. “It will be through the U of U, but it’s like they’re Dixie students.”

The paramedic program was moved from the Russell C. Taylor Health Science Center Building to the Hurricane campus to make room for the new PA program, which will be mostly on the second floor. Classes will be taught both at the U of U and at DSU through a system that allows professors to broadcast to the 60 total students in the U of U’s PA program on both campuses.

“Students apply to the [U of U], but faculty from DSU and the college of health sciences will be involved in the admission process,” Bermudez said.

The PA classrooms include new gray, red and white carpet, microphones on every desk, large TV screens on both sides of the room, and a small window in the back of the room where the IT director will sit to ensure the broadcast goes smoothly.

“If the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs come here, then we will need a bigger science facility with bigger anatomy and physiology labs,” Bermudez said. “They would be at a different level because they are graduate programs, so it’s important to get those in place as we grow.”

Susan Hart, associate professor of physical education and human health and performance department chair, said these programs will help develop DSU into a premier university.

“There is a growing demand for these [health care] professionals across the U.S., and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down,” Hart said.

Hart said graduates from these potential DSU programs will enter the health care industry as leaders in one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. She said as St. George and the surrounding community grows, the need for these professions will continue to increase.

“These programs will attract students from all over the U.S. as well as provide an opportunity for DSU students to continue their education,” Hart said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the need for healthcare occupations is projected to grow 18 percent by 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs.

Kalee Mason, a junior biology major from St. George, is planning on applying to one of DSU’s health science programs once physical and occupational therapy are available. She is currently a physical therapy assistant and wants to get her degree in physical therapy.

“Being a physical therapist is my dream career,” Mason said. “I love living in St. George, and with this program I won’t have to leave DSU.”