PA Program Profile: University of South Florida

Miles of sandy beaches, thrilling coasters at Busch Gardens, and a new state-of-the-art learning facility — these are just a few of the things that PA students at the University of South Florida in Tampa can look forward to. But of course, that’s definitely not all. USF’s program director, Todd Wills, MD, FACP, recently shared some insights into the program with us, so take a minute and get to know one of PA education’s newest programs.

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

The USF Morsani College of Medicine’s PA Program was developed to train outstanding PAs to serve the health care needs of our community and to increase the breadth of inter-professional health education at USF Health. The colleges of USF Health (Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, and Public Health) have strived to develop a learning environment where students of varied disciplines work together and share their learning journey. The addition of PA students to this environment was a natural extension, which benefits the existing students as well as our own PA learners.

What do you think makes your program unique?

There are a few characteristics of our program that stand out. One of the most attractive aspects of our program are the learning facilities. Our students use the training facilities of the Morsani College of Medicine on USF’s main campus as well as the experiential facilities of USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in downtown Tampa. That state-of-the-art facility is home to cutting-edge technology in procedural simulation, as well as simulated patient care rooms. This allows for early exposure to realistic clinical scenarios. Our clinical training sites also offer our students the chance to learn alongside other health trainees from USF Health. Our hospital affiliates include Tampa General Hospital, a level-one regional trauma center and tertiary care center; Moffitt Cancer Center, a highly ranked National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center; and James A. Haley VA Hospital, which is among the highest-volume VA medical centers in the US.

Students of the University of South Florida PA Program. Image courtesy of: Todd Willis/USF PA Program

Students of the University of South Florida PA Program. Image courtesy of Todd Wills/USF PA Program

How does your program work to encourage and strengthen inclusiveness and diversity both in its admissions process and in the curriculum?

Our program’s admissions process utilizes a holistic approach to candidate assessment.  This approach was pioneered and refined through the American Association of Medical Colleges and is the same process our institution uses for selection of its medical students. This process allows our admissions committee to evaluate the unique contributions each candidate can make to our class. In addition to grades and test scores, we are able to consider other characteristics and life experiences that numbers don’t always describe.

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

Our students recently took part in a session regarding their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Many had participated in something similar in the past, but for all involved, this exercise provided a reminder of the varied ways in which colleagues, teachers, and eventually patients interact with the people around them.

USF’s medical students started an indigent care clinic called the BRIDGE clinic in 2007. The clinic is completely administered by students, with faculty preceptors helping out with patient care. Our PA students will become additional members of this health care team. USF’s College of Medicine also takes part in regular “runs” as part of Tampa Bay Street Medicine, a student organization started in 2014 aimed at providing health care to the homeless population. PA faculty from our program have served as leaders of several street runs.

What are you doing to foster innovation in your program?

As a new program, we are in the unique position to be a “testing laboratory” for new teaching innovation. In our didactic year, we are exploring problem-based learning exercises with our students to augment the material they learn in lectures. We have introduced the “flipped-classroom” structure to several lectures as well. Our primary mechanism for fostering innovation is to maintain an open attitude toward new teaching methods. We balance this by rigorously evaluating the effectiveness of each new method to ensure that our innovations are beneficial to the students.

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

The most important advice I could give to developing programs is to begin the planning process for your program as early as possible! Identify the existing strengths of your home institution and design a program that leverages those strengths to provide the best learning opportunity for your students.

Make sure to involve your college’s leaders in the planning phase. Sometimes these folks can provide keen insight into how to make the program thrive in the organization, and sometimes they need to know the unique challenges of PA education early in the process so that all the resources you need are ready and available when the students arrive.