City College Updates Historic Program by Anthony Viola
As of September 2016, applicants to City College’s Physician Assistant (PA) Program will be leaving the program with a master’s rather than a bachelor’s degree.
For 37 years, the PA Program at City College has been partnering with Harlem Hospital Center. One of the few remaining historic programs for students of color, its mission was previously to help students attain a bachelor’s degree. However, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) recently mandated that all programs in the country must upgrade to graduate level by 2020. City College will accordingly be replacing the current undergraduate program with one which grants a master’s degree instead.
All of this is happening at the same time as the college moves to launch the CUNY School of Medicine, located on the City College campus. The new medical school will increase access to an academically intensive medical education and train physicians for underserved communities across the state. The CUNY Med School will begin its inaugural class in partnership with St. Barnabas Health System in the South Bronx.
Previously, applicants to City College’s PA Program only needed 60 credits to be eligible for admission, and graduated from the program with a bachelor’s degree. Students now need a bachelor’s degree and prerequisite courses in relevant subject areas to be considered for acceptance, changes which will affect those applying to be admitted in fall 2016.
Scholars who enroll in the new program will be committing to a 28.5 month course of study. The new program will consist of an 80-credit curriculum structured into three semesters of study and clinical practice, one semester dedicated to research skills, and a capstone project. The program will also undergo course rearrangement. Classes which were combined with others are now being made stand-alone courses and vice versa. For example, medical Spanish was not a registered class that counted as credits until now.
Although the focus of the PA Program has shifted, and the courses have been restructured, the funding that the program here has been receiving will not be changing. While the Sophie Davis School added a sixth full-time faculty member specifically for the physician assistant suite, this change took place independently of the PA program’s restructuring.
According to the New York State Education Department, a physician assistant only needs a bachelor’s degree to be licensed to work in the state of New York. While not necessary for license accreditation in New York State, a master’s degree increases graduates’ credentials and gives them greater negotiating power.
According to Theresa Horvath, the Assistant Dean and Program Director of the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, undergraduates in the current program have been doing graduate-level work already: “Our students have basically been doing master’s-level work all along. Now [they will] finally get the degree for it. I mean, [it is] not a total transformation; it’s more a rearrangement.”
Andreina Armas, a current student in the undergraduate PA Program, wishes that this upgrade came with a transitional program for others in her shoes. “Unfortunately, the transition to the new program will not affect me directly because it will be offered to the new incoming class of 2019. I do hope there is a bridge program offered for those recent graduates — which would likely include my graduating class of 2017,” Armas says.
“We always had hopes of being involved in the upgrade and eventually obtaining a master’s degree from the program. Unfortunately, the upgrade will not affect us much during our years here,” says Jennifer Liu, a student in the same year as Armas. Liu hoped to eventually receive her master’s degree through the program, another opportunity lost to the program’s transitional class.
Though these changes will not affect current undergraduates, the question remains whether the relationship between Harlem Hospital and City College will be impacted. Prior to 2007, many of the courses took place in the suite that City College’s PA Program has at Harlem Hospital. Since the Sophie Davis School’s relocation into Harris Hall, many of them have been moved onto campus.
Regardless, Horvath claims that the program’s relationship with the hospital will remain the same. “The things that are historic about who we are and what makes us different from other PA programs is not going to change,” she explains. “One is our connection to Harlem Hospital and to the Harlem community and the other is that we are an excellent program as an undergraduate degree.” Armas and Liu agree, and both believe that this transition will only help Harlem Hospital: since many graduates tend to find work at the hospital, raising their skill level to that of a master’s will mean that their performance will improve accordingly.
The program’s current momentum is something that the administration hopes to maintain, according to Horvath. “We have an extremely high pass rate, and we have a tremendous commitment both to diversity and to service to the underserved. That will not change,” she promises, adding: “We are very anxious for City College students to apply.”