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Elon to locate physician assistant program on its main campus and sets the stage for future expansion of the Elon University School of Law campus in downtown Greensboro

Elon's new master of science program in physician assistant (PA) studies will be located on the university's main campus. Elon's board of trustees made the decision in a special vote on Jan. 5, following more than two months of study and fundraising efforts.

The program is projected to enroll its inaugural class in January 2013, with facilities located in the former Smithfield Foods building on Haggard Avenue. Elon purchased the building last spring and is planning an extensive renovation to convert the space to academic uses. In a tribute to Elon's executive vice president and former provost Gerry Francis, who has served the university for his entire academic career, the renovated complex will be named the Gerald L. Francis Center.

Elon trustees also authorized purchase of additional property in downtown Greensboro, setting the stage for future expansion of Elon University School of Law.

"As we developed plans to launch the PA program, the synergies with our existing graduate and undergraduate health-related programs became apparent," said Leo M. Lambert, Elon University president.

Campus map showing the location of the Gerald L. Francis Center

"The Francis Center is being renovated as the new home for our doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program, and the two programs will be able to share some classroom and lab facilities," he said. "There are also many academic advantages to having the PA faculty, staff and students on campus, interacting daily with undergraduates, especially those enrolled in the sciences. We also plan to connect the Francis Center to main campus with a new roadway connection to Danieley Center, a sidewalk extension along Haggard Avenue, and the installation of new recreational playing fields nearby."

Lambert said the PA program will be a tremendous asset on the main campus as planning continues for a School of Health Sciences. He said trustees considered locating the PA program in downtown Greensboro, but instead decided to negotiate the purchase of property near the law school that would support the school's plans for enrollment growth and its expanding legal clinics and student organizations.

Major funding to support the new PA program will include a $450,000 grant by The Duke Endowment along with matching grants totaling $450,000 from Alamance Regional Medical Center and Moses Cone Health System. The Cannon Foundation of Concord, N.C., has contributed a $100,000 grant, and additional funding will be provided by Glen Raven Inc. and other local companies, organizations and individuals.

"We are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from leaders in health care, and most notably John Currin of Alamance Regional Medical Center and Tim Rice of Moses Cone Health System," Lambert said. "We are confident this new graduate program will contribute to the quality of life, economic health, business activity and reputation of the region. We're also happy to repurpose this major building in the Town of Elon, creating an attractive new educational facility on Haggard Avenue."

Lambert also commended trustee Allen Gant for his leadership in seeking financial resources for a main campus location.

Mark Archambault

Elon Provost Steven House announced that Mark Archambault, currently vice chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, will be the founding director of the program. Archambault joined the Wake Forest faculty in 2007 after coordinating the physician assistant academic program at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., from 2001 to 2006. He is a licensed and certified physician assistant.

Elon began exploring a PA program in fall 2008 and trustees approved the plan at their Oct. 22-23, 2010, meeting. A feasibility study, based on the work of an external consultant and a 12-member committee, found that prospects for a successful PA program are excellent, with projections for a substantial increase in physician assistant jobs available in North Carolina over the next several years. In 2008 there were more than 11,000 applications at more than 140 colleges and universities for the 5,000 available seats in the nation's physician assistant programs.

"We learned there is a rapidly growing demand for physician assistants, who are playing a crucial role in our nation's changing healthcare system," said Steven House, Elon University provost and vice president for academic affairs. "As we face a chronic shortage of doctors, physician assistants are essential to maintaining quality health services. Helping to meet the demand for more physician assistants is in line with Elon's mission and our desire to expand our outstanding professional and graduate programs."

Physician assistant programs typically require about 28 months of study, with students spending the first year in the classroom and the second year in clinical settings. Hospitals in the region, including Alamance Regional Medical Center and Moses Cone Health System, have committed to host students for their clinical studies.

The program will enroll classes of about 36 students annually and include six faculty members, a director, a clinical director, a medical director and other staff members. Elon plans to combine a rigorous academic program with a focus on leadership and service to the community. The program's clinical rotations may include domestic or international service learning opportunities in underserved urban or rural areas.

Before enrolling students, a PA program must earn provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), satisfying more than 200 standards. In addition, Elon would need approval for the new program from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Elon's program will join North Carolina's existing PA programs at Duke University, Wake Forest University, East Carolina University, Wingate University and Methodist College along with a program that is planning to enroll its first class in fall 2011 at Campbell University.

Gerald L. Francis Center
Dan Anderson,
8/9/2011 4:53 PM