HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Wingate master’s in Physician Assistant Studies starts locally; students must apply by March

By Pete Zamplas –

Expanding its Hendersonville campus’ curriculum, Wingate University is gaining interest in its upcoming physician assistant studies master’s degree program which features 10 internships per student and has interns from its main campus working locally.

Wingate already teaches pharmacy and MBA in Hendersonville. The 27-month MPAS program starts at the local campus in August of 2013, and applications are taken until March. MPAS began in 2008 at Wingate, which is 22 miles southeast of Charlotte. Video feed links simultaneously-held classes at the local branch with the main campus.

Students study in daytime class, for three semesters. Then they intern in 10 areas in “clinical rotations,” rotating between them. Eight of 10 are required specialties, added Marie Cook Irving. She is admissions and compliance officer, for the William and Loretta Harris Department of P.A. Required are internal medicine, general surgery, emergency medicine, women’s health, pediatrics and psychiatry, with two rotations in primary care. The other two electives can be cardiology, orthopedics or other sub-specialty. Or they can be a repeat of any required area, Irving noted.

Second-year P.A. students David Fluech, 44, and Morgan Shipley, 27, both intern at Pardee Hospital. They took turns working in the emergency room and primary care. Both have undergrad degrees in exercise and sports science, as part of their training. Georgia Bulldog alumnus and Arkansas native Fluech has a degree in physical therapy. He has worked for 17 years as a P.T. in Asheville. He said that work takes a toll physically.

Shipley is from Banner Elk, and a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate. She has done “grunt work” as a medical assistant, and is eager to move up the medical ladder to a P.A. “The P.A. is more active in diagnosing and treating patients. It’s a challenging journey.”

These two were ambassadors for Wingate’s accredited MPAS program, telling prospective students all about it at an open house Nov. 1. The reception was at the local campus, at 220 Fifth Ave. E. at Fifth and King streets near downtown.

Geoff Kenlan, 42, a lab technician in Mission Hospital in Asheville for 12 years, was impressed with what he heard from the two students and officials Irving and Rosalind Becker who is program director of Physician Assistant Studies and an associate professor. Like Irving, she is based at Wingate’s main campus. Next year there will be two full-time MPAS faculty members locally — an assistant director and a clinical coordinator.

Becker observed that the physician assistant is emerging to “fill the void in primary care” in a growing shortage of doctors, with attrition via retirement and many medicine students specializing in higher-pay areas. Also, more patients arriving in part due to federally-mandated health care. Further, Becker said, all Wingate MPAS graduates so far are “getting hired, in all areas” with seven of the next 20 to soon graduate “offered contracts in the greater Charlotte area.”

Kenlan said “I’ve been waiting for a while for a P.A. program around here. I’ll be more involved directly in helping patients” than working in a lab. Also, the pay is greater. He did not want to uproot his 16-year-old son from school, to move and study elsewhere. He said “consistent accreditation” levels the playing field, in choosing where to study.

Wingate’s MPAS grew from 20 students in ‘08 to 38 who are ages 22-52, Irving said. She said the target is 10 students for the first year at the smaller local campus. “We can’t flood the market, in clinical rotations,” Irving explained. She said that, so far, four people have formally applied with 40 more considering applications for the local campus.

Class size is relatively small, offering greater personalized training. “Every professor knows my name,” Chapel Hill alum Shipley said. “They see to it that I can do this.” Fluech added, “they call you my our first name.”

In turn, a physical therapist tends to have a smaller patient load than the doctor he or she works with, Shipley said. “We can take time with patients.” Fluech added how the P.A. “frees the physician to take on the most serious and complicated cases.”

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, not required in any specific field. Six of their nine prerequisite classes must be finished within five years of MPAS enrollment, Irving noted. “That fresher knowledge ensures greater likelihood of student success.” The three prerequisites without time bounds are organic chemistry, general psychology and statistics.

The physician assistant may earn slightly more than a nurse practitioner, but responsibilities are similar including in prescribing medicine, Shipley said. Only the P.A. needs a supervising physician.

Training is more physician based for the P.A., nurse-based for a nurse practitioner, Fluech said. Shipley sees an edge with MPAS not requiring a specialty. As Becker said, the MPAS student “learns a little of everything.” This gives wider training, from which to choose a career path. So far Shipley enjoys surgery, among areas.

Shipley enjoys getting treated “on the same level” as experienced medical staff. Fluech said physicians say “good job” to interns, and their help is appreciated. “Four sets of eyes are better than two.” Shipley feels “empowered” when treated able to contribute to medical “teamwork,” such as analyzing “evidence” for a diagnosis or in the “treatment regimen.” She said “it gives you confidence, as a care provider.”

For more information on Wingate’s MPAS program or to apply for local classes, call 692-2961 or check pa.wingate.edu.

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