On Tuesday, the university is to unveil a partnership that crosses state boundaries, spans the public/private sector, and is aimed at filling that demand, particularly in underserved urban areas such as Atlantic City, Camden, and Trenton.
Its partners are Richard Stockton College - a public university near Atlantic City - and Reliance Medical Group, a primary-care provider based nearby, in Pleasantville, N.J.
Starting next July, Philadelphia University will begin offering its graduate program at a new location in Atlantic City, becoming the first master's in physician assistant program in South Jersey. The university will lease space from Reliance, which will provide a medical director for the program and assist in placing students in clinical rotations at hospitals, nursing homes, and physician offices.
For its part, Stockton will offer undergraduate study at an accelerated pace - a three-year bachelor's degree in health sciences - and then funnel students into the two-year graduate program. The university and college also will collaborate on a cadaver lab and a simulation lab; Stockton will provide the space, and Philadelphia University will equip the labs. Stockton also will share its library and fitness facilities.
"The exciting part is the collaboration with local partners who understand the educational health care needs," said Matt Baker, executive dean of Philadelphia University's College of Science, Health and Liberal Arts and a physician assistant. "We just felt it would be a more favorable environment to have people who actually know the area better than we do."
The partnership, Baker said, grew out of conversations that Philadelphia University had with Reliance in 2010. The university had sent physician assistant students to the medical group for clinical rotations for years, but Reliance wanted a deeper relationship where it could help with the educational program close to home.
"There's not going to be enough doctors to provide that primary-care need," said Dr. Jon Regis, president and CEO of Reliance Medical Group. "We're looking at physician assistants to provide that primary-care access to patients."
For years, there have been only two physician assistant master's programs in New Jersey, one at Rutgers and the other at Seton Hall. Monmouth University will begin a program in the fall.
Reliance, which started in 1985, offers primary-care services in ob/gyn, pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine at 30 practices in Atlantic, Cape May, Camden, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties, serving 75,000 patients. Reliance is finishing negotiations for the new 6,000-square-feet site, including classrooms, labs, and offices.
Stockton, which collaborated with Philadelphia University on the undergraduate curriculum, found the approach preferable to starting its own graduate degree.
"Why duplicate something if you can work together?" asked Harvey Kesselman, Stockton's provost and executive vice president.
Stockton will enroll 12 freshmen in the fall of 2015 and ramp up, with its first class ready to enter the graduate program in 2018. Philadelphia University, however, will start the graduate program next July, enrolling up to 24 students from its regular applicant pool. Tuition will be the same as its main campus - $38,000.