PA Program Profile: The University of South Carolina–Columbia

The University of South Carolina–Columbia, the second PA program in the state, is poised to graduate PAs who are especially tuned in to the needs of rural and underserved communities. We had a chance to speak with founding Program Director Amy Allen, MHS, PA-C, EdS, to talk about how their curriculum accomplishes this aim and to find out how their first year is going so far.

How did this program come about?

The PA program at the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine–Columbia was developed in response to the state’s growing shortage of primary care providers. When the idea for developing the program was conceived, there was only one other PA program in the state. Leaders within the USC School of Medicine and the Columbia, SC, community felt that having a PA program with a primary care focus and a mission to provide health care to rural and underserved areas within the state would help address this issue.

David Weil, MMSc, PA-C, teaches a class. Image courtesy of Amy Allen, USC–Columbia PA program

David Weil, MMSc, PA-C, teaches a class. Image courtesy of Amy Allen, USC–Columbia PA program

What do you think makes your program unique?

Our PA program is affiliated with the world-renowned Ultrasound Institute, which is housed on the USC School of Medicine campus. As a result, we have been able to incorporate ultrasound training throughout the curriculum, beginning with the first semester’s Human Anatomy and Physiology courses.

The USC PA program also has a focus on interprofessionalism, which includes the PA students taking classes with medical students and nurse anesthesia students and participating in simulated experiences with pharmacy students. USC has also developed an interprofessional course comprised of medical, nursing, pharmacy, genetic counseling, physical therapy, and social work students. The PA students join this course during the second spring semester immediately prior to the start of their structured clinical practice experiences.

Do you do any team-building, volunteer, or philanthropic activities with your cohort?

We have been very fortunate that our inaugural class of PA students is very community-focused. Along with the faculty and staff, the students have participated in such events as the USC School of Medicine Black Tie, White Coat gala to raise money for the area’s free medical clinic; the USC Art of Healthy Living program to educate the community on health and wellness; and national Red Nose Day to help raise money for children in poverty. The class is also planning on partnering with a local orphanage to do activities with the children.

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?

Last year, all of the USC PA program faculty attended the PAEA Education Forum and multiple workshops, and they were able to network with many other PA educators from across the country. An important collaboration with another developing program, Dominican University, developed as a result of attending the Forum. The USC PA program has partnered with the Dominican University PA program in Illinois to conduct a research project evaluating the effectiveness of Anatomage versus classic cadaveric anatomy. The USC PA cohort is serving as a control in this study, as we use prosected human cadavers within the anatomy course. The USC faculty assisted in the planning stages for the project and in the evaluation of the survey instrument used. They also contributed input to a grant proposal regarding the project.

University of South Carolina–Columbia PA students on orientation day. Image courtesy of Amy Allen/USC–Columbia PA program

University of South Carolina–Columbia PA students on orientation day. Image courtesy of Amy Allen/USC–Columbia PA program

The PA program was also able to form a collaborative relationship with the USC School of Pharmacy via a faculty exchange. The School of Pharmacy has contributed faculty to teach the pharmacotherapy components of the PA curriculum, and the PA faculty are teaching pathophysiology and assisting with grading of OSCEs and summative seminars for the pharmacy school. Both programs are in the process of planning some interprofessional simulation experiences to allow both sets of learners to work together through various medical scenarios.

The PA program was also able to partner with the USC Arnold School of Public Health to incorporate public health topics into our PA Professional Practice course in the first didactic semester. The students really enjoyed this instruction, and the timing of the instruction has made them very aware of the concept of population health, which will help to frame how they approach treating patients as they expand their medical knowledge.

Any new ideas or projects on the horizon for your program?

The USC School of Medicine–Columbia is partnering with the WJB Dorn VA Medical Center, on whose campus both the School of Medicine and the PA program are located, to develop a simulation center. This facility will offer five simulation rooms, two debriefing rooms, and a control room with capability for recording all scenarios for student review. We are excited about the implementation of simulation into our curriculum and feel that it will become an invaluable instructional tool to access the students’ clinical decision-making, communication skills, and teamwork. This new simulation center will also provide an opportunity for additional interprofessional interactions with other sets of learners.

And finally, if you could give developing programs one piece of advice, what would it be?

Explore what resources your sponsoring institution and community have to offer as soon as possible. It is always best to utilize what is already available and not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to best practices, interprofessional and collaboration opportunities, and clinical sites. In addition, working directly with community organizations may also help them and their members fill some of their missing needs.