News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 23, 2012

ISU’s physician assistants move on

University’s first class in new masters program advances to clinical stage

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A line of white coats trailed from the stage inside University Hall, as the first graduates of a new program prepare to enter the medical world.

Indiana State University’s inaugural class of physician assistants passed 29 from the didactic phase to clinical rotations Sunday afternoon. The group represents the first class to matriculate through a master’s program,  which was launched last year and designed to provide rural areas with more health care professionals.

Biff Williams, dean of the college of nursing, health and human services, said the program’s curriculum began taking shape in 2010, and organizers have greatness in mind.

“We believe we’re going to have the best physician assistant program in the United States,” Williams said during the ceremony.

ISU has taken a unique approach in designing its program, gearing it toward a multi-disciplinary model, he said. Students in fields such as dietetics, nursing and therapy all work and learn together, providing a more holistic atmosphere, and better preparing them for their careers, he said.

Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician, according to information provided by the university. The shortage of physicians practicing in rural areas, coupled with an aging population, has increased the demand for such professionals.

And George Brown, a physician assistant at the Clay City Center for Family Medicine, said after 36 years, he can testify to that need.

“You’re going to have one of the best jobs in America,” Brown told the class Sunday afternoon, adding if he had his life to do over again, he’d still make the choice to become a physician assistant.

In 1971, Brown was majoring in life sciences at ISU with the thought of going on to medical school But after reading an article in the Indianapolis Star about a “new program” being launched, he decided to reconsider. The idea of a physician assistant program was born at Duke University in 1967, he said. But by the mid-1970s it was picking up steam. Brown was accepted into one of the country’s first programs in 1973, finished in 1975, and entered a brand new field to look for a job.

Given the degree’s infancy, Brown said he received a number of rejection letters before landing a job in a family practice in Riley. Over the years, his work has remained in rural Clay and Vigo counties, but his practice has spanned family and internal medicine, as well as cardiac care.

Brown encouraged the group to remain in Indiana and be attentive listeners, continuing the tradition of “compassionate care” for patients.

Sunday’s ceremony marked the end of the group’s 15-month didactic period, and it now moves into a 12-month clinical rotations curriculum. Clinical sites will be located throughout central Indiana.

Matthew Thimling earned distinction within the class, winning the “Future of Professionalism in Physician Assistant Practice Award.”

The 2006 graduate of Jasper High School earned undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry at Kentucky Wesleyan University before deciding to get a masters at ISU.

“I’m more of a family person,” he said, explaining his desire to practice medicine in a rural setting, a specialty for which he said ISU is becoming known.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.