PA Program Profile: Milligan College

Continuing our series profiling newly accredited PA programs, this week we’re featuring Milligan College in Tennessee. Special thanks to program director Andrew W. Hull, MSPAS, PA-C, for answering all of our questions!

Tell me a little bit about how this program came about.

The idea to start this program began in 2012 as Milligan College looked for ways to expand the programs it offered to students. Through the work of the PA program feasibility study committee, Milligan saw the need for a PA program in east Tennessee. This program would help to meet the needs of the medically underserved areas in the region and prepare more health care providers with a desire to serve others. Milligan believed that a PA program would be a great addition to its already strong sciences and allied health programs, which include nursing and occupational therapy.

What do you think makes your program unique?

The Milligan College PA program is unique in many ways. It focuses on servant leadership with our didactic curriculum, volunteer and service opportunities, and clinical partnerships with faith-based organizations and underserved patient populations. Our faculty are dedicated to the students in a way that fosters growth in character as well as medical education, and we have an excellent group of faculty members with a large number of years of both teaching experience and clinical practice experience in a wide variety of specialties. We also have a very supportive administration who have been involved in all aspects of program development and who continue to support the program in many ways.

We have a large number of other professional programs in our region, including a nursing and occupational therapy program at Milligan and a pharmacy school and medical school at the local state university. This will allow for a number of possibilities for interprofessional education opportunities that are already being discussed.

We have a cadaver lab on-site that was already in use for other college programs, and it has been expanded to meet the needs of our program. We continually look for ways to provide hands-on experience for our students. Because of that, students will participate in live examinations of patients along with numerous simulation lab experiences throughout the didactic phase curriculum.

We have a small class size of 26 students, which allows us to engage our students and focus on having a close mentoring relationship with them. All of our faculty members believe in the importance of serving others in both our professional and personal lives — we serve the underserved population, our co-workers, and our entire community.

Heather C. Justice, PA-C, assistant professor of PA studies, provides instruction to students. Credit: Milligan College

What has been the biggest challenge your program has had to overcome so far, and how did you accomplish it?

One of the biggest challenges for our program was the development of enough clinical support for the clinical phase of the program. The local medical community in our area has been very supportive throughout the development phase of this program as they have seen the benefit for local institutions and ultimately their own goals of serving those in need. This, along with the hard work of our faculty, has enabled us to overcome this challenge.

Do you do any team-building or philanthropic activities with your cohorts?

The Milligan College PA program focuses on preparing PAs with the desire to serve others. We require students to participate in at least one service project in the didactic phase of the program and another service project in the clinical phase of the program. This project can be anything that is approved by members of the faculty.

Some examples of activities that students might participate in include Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics, some type of construction or building project, or another service project in an area that the student has a strong desire to serve in. Many of the students in our inaugural class had a large number of volunteer and community service hours prior to matriculation, and it is our goal to have students who will continue to see the importance of service to others while in the program and who will subsequently continue to serve their patients and communities after they graduate.

We hear a lot about networking and collaboration in the PA world. How have you been able to collaborate with other programs or community members?

Our faculty members have attended a wide variety of PAEA workshops over the past couple of years. These workshops have provided a wonderful opportunity to discuss ideas and experiences with faculty members of other programs. They have also been great for networking and establishing contacts with faculty members and program directors, and this has been very helpful throughout the program development process. If you have never done so, I would highly recommend attending one of these workshops as they are very helpful in many ways.

Our faculty members have also reached out to faculty members from their alma maters for assistance. Some of these institutions are South University (Savannah), Duquesne University, and Northwestern University. We have partnered with a large number of physicians, PAs, and NPs from our area who will be providing didactic instruction for our students. We have received a great deal of both financial and clinical support from one of the largest health care provider organizations in our area, Mountain States Health Alliance (now known as Ballad Health after its merger with Wellmont Health Systems). We are very grateful for their support and we look forward to working with them as our first class continues to progress through the program.

Maureen Knechtel, PA-C, assistant professor of PA studies, provides instruction to students. Credit: Milligan College

If you could give developing programs one piece of advice, what would it be?

My advice to other developing programs would be to know the ARC-PA Standards and understand exactly how they apply to your program. Although this seems like a given in many ways, it can be difficult as you learn your institution and find the identity of your program. Figuring out what makes your program unique is a very important part of program development, but always coming back to the standards will only lead you in the right direction.

I would also recommend that you start a program with a supportive local medical community, and focus on keeping the students’ educational needs and experience as a whole in the center of your program’s development.