PA Program Profile: Stephens College

Located in Columbia, Missouri, the Stephens College PA program is one of the newest — yet, ironically, one of the oldest as well. Read on to learn more about the program, courtesy of Founding Director Eric Johnson, MS, PA-C.

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

The idea of a PA program is not entirely foreign to Stephens. The College had a PA program from 1975 until 1978, graduating three classes before it ended. The current PA program started when Dr. Richard Oliver approached President Dianne Lynch with the observation that “with all that Columbia has to offer in the area of health care, a PA program seems like a natural fit.”

From there, we assembled community physicians and PAs to discuss and advise us on the matter. We conducted a feasibility study and then moved the project forward. An incredible amount of hard work by our extremely dedicated team brought the program into existence.

Students at Stephens College

Image courtesy of Eric Johnson, Stephens College PA Program


Students at Stephens College


What do you think makes your program unique?

Our program has many unique qualities. First is the fact that Stephens College, established in 1833, is the oldest women’s college west of the Mississippi River. It has a rich history in the arts that the program can draw from. Our PA students are also a unique and welcome addition to Stephens.

Second is our location. Columbia is in the center of the state and is often referred to as the Athens of Missouri for its classical beauty and its emphasis on education.

Third, we recognized that PAs, although integral to health care, are often not included in and sometimes ill-equipped for leadership roles. We address this by integrating leadership into the program throughout both the didactic and clinical years. All students participate in a four-week, non-clinical internship during their clinical year of training. These internships include areas such as medical ethics, emergency management, quality improvement, and medical education.

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

Our biggest challenges are those common among many programs. They include establishing and securing clinical rotations, and finding faculty who are not only enthusiastic PA educators, but who also possess both clinical and academic teaching experience. Finding faculty with one or the other is challenging enough; finding that combination in one faculty member is even more so. We are lucky to have found that combination in all of our faculty members.

Other challenges are those that involve the enormous amount of work required to bring a PA program to fruition. ARC-PA requires attention to extensive detail. Although this detail can be daunting it is necessary to bring about a quality program and we are grateful for their guidance and influence.

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Image courtesy of Eric Johnson, Stephens College PA Program

Do you do any team-building or philanthropic activities with your cohorts? (For example, volunteering in the community.)

As a new PA program, we are developing a partnership with an organization in our community known as Turning Point. Turning Point is a fantastic organization that provides a “touch down” space for the homeless in Columbia. There the clients can shower, do laundry, and maintain a mailing address, among other things. We have named our partnership “Homeless House Calls.” The goal of Homeless House Calls is to provide some limited primary care awareness and education at Turning Point, as the homeless are often wary of coming to clinics or medical institutions for health care.

Furthermore, the PA students learn how to establish partnerships, navigate important issues, address risk, and champion the many benefits that come from this kind of service. Homeless House Calls will provide an incredible learning experience for our students one they will draw from as PA leaders after graduation.

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?

We are so very grateful to Dr. Allan Bedashi, director of the PA Studies Program at California Baptist University, and especially to Dr. Scott Richards, founding chair and director of the Emory & Henry College PA Program.

Our relationship with the Emory & Henry PA Program and with Dr. Richards has been invaluable. As the programs developed together, we were able to have our faculties meet and identify our unique strengths. We have come to realize that a continued partnership between our programs is enormously beneficial. Strong collaboration with site coordination, faculty expertise, and many other areas are possible, including the potential for virtual faculty and student meetings. We believe this level of partnership can be an enormously beneficial model for PA programs in the future. We will keep you posted.

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

Start early and reach out to partner with other, more experienced programs and personnel. Attend PAEA’s various PandoTM workshops and the “Accreditation and You” workshop put on by ARC-PA. Give serious consideration to hiring a program development consultant.

Most importantly, never let these two major endpoints escape your motivation: the care of your patients and the education of those who serve them.

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Image courtesy of Eric Johnson, Stephens College PA Program