With commencement less than a month away, many students may be feeling the pressure to find a job. Fortunately for the students currently enrolled in Rocky Mountain College’s Master
of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program, job hunting just became much easier. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the Master’s Degree
in Physician Assistant Studies was ranked as the number one degree for jobs. The number of PAs needed in the future is set to grow by 20% from where the profession is now. Studies find 78.1% of recent United States PA program graduates had multiple job offers right after graduating. This makes RMC’s program even more essential.
Consisting of an intensive 26-month training program, after which students will be fully licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician, RMC’s PA program is designed to turn students into highly qualified medical professionals. “The PA profession is rapidly growing with a lot of opportunity for a highly satisfying career,” said Program Director Heather Heggem. “PAs do complete history and physicals of patients, order diagnostic tests and labs, as well as treat patients and write prescriptions.” Unlike in other healthcare professions, PAs enjoy a lot of autonomy in their work and are able to make many diagnostic decisions themselves while also working as a team with their supervising physician. The NCCPA stated that PAs see an average of 70 patients per week in their principal clinical position.
What is it about RMC’s PA program that draws prospective students from all across the country? Master’s student Amy Grossman said it wasn’t just one thing that caught her attention. “RMC’s PA program has many qualities that made it my number one choice by a landslide,” she said. “Not only do I love the way the curriculum is set up in regards to modular learning, but the faculty are what truly won me over. From even just the initial portion of my interview it was clear how much work they put into each student’s education, and I couldn’t imagine any other program having such an amazing collection of brilliant providers that care as much as our[…]faculty does.” According to the RMC Student Body Profile, there are 73 full-time students in the Physician Assistant Studies program, with over half of them coming from out of state.
Grossman also said that she enjoys the fact that RMC’s learning program includes a mixture of not only lectures, but also guest speakers, clinical practice, and even mock patients. The integration of both traditional and practical knowledge “keeps us active and on our toes while we learn,” she stated. Added Heggem, “The students know we are competent and that we care, and I feel our program excels at both of those elements. Students feel like we care about them as individuals; we want them to succeed and they feel like they are part of a family.”
Besides the excellent post-graduation career prospects, Grossman said her passion for becoming a Physician Assistant “stems from the many opportunities available in this profession.
I love having the opportunity to combine my passion for science and helping others with the reality of collaborating alongside other healthcare providers in order to determine what is best for each individual patient.” Heggem also added, “The best part about my job [as Program Director] is watching our outstanding students develop into competent, professional providers that will truly make a difference in the lives of their patients. ”
According to a 2013 US Census estimate, there are approximately 493 Physician Assistants in the state of Montana, making it one of the top five states that have the most PAs per 100,000 residents. This means that PA programs are extremely competitive, including RMC’s. “This is an incredibly competitive, challenging and intense program,” said Heggem. “Make sure you get out into the medical community and volunteer. Shadow and work in the field so that you know what area of medicine interests you.” However current RMC students interested in the PA program may have an advantage: the college’s rigorous science program. Said Heggem, “RMC has such an outstanding science program. I know how rigorous the RMC sciences are, how impressive RMC students are, and how well educated they are. Our liberal arts college prepares them to be professional, compassionate, intelligent providers.”
Grossman’s advice to interested students? Research your program. “The best advice I can give to students interested in joining a PA program is to research each program and make sure to choose the one that is right for you,” she said. “Each program has unique qualities that make them successful in their own way, and it is important to find one that fits your ideals and the way you want to learn medicine.”