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22 students kick off PA program

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Layla Abbas
LV Life Editor

The first cohort of the Physician Assistant Program at the University of La Verne, which was granted provisional accreditation through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant earlier this year, kicked off the first week of classes Aug. 26.

The cohort, consisting of 22 students, will remain together throughout the entire 27-month program together.

April Chapman, a student in the program, said she has worked for the last seven years toward her goal of becoming a physician assistant.

“It takes quite a long time to qualify to get into one of these programs because are incredibly competitive,” Chapman said. “So as I was researching programs, I saw that La Verne was developing one and it caught my eye because I think of La Verne as being more of a liberal arts school not a medical school.”

Michael Estrada, founding program director, said it was a surreal to see the students experiencing the first week of the program.

“There is a sense of celebration considering a program like this has never existed in the institution in the last 127 years,” Estrada said. “I would consider it a major milestone in regards to the direction the institution is headed.”

The program idea was born five years ago from a discussion between the board of trustees and the administration about emerging professions.

As part of the University’s strategic mission, they decided to bring the physician assistant program to La Verne considering an interest in health related professions.

Estrada was selected as the program director and said it was a privilege to be the leading role in a program that will impact the University and outside communities.

“It provides accessibility of health care to populations who may not necessarily have that type of accessibility,” Estrada said. “And engage potential students and prospective applicants for the program that may come from regions that are medically underserved in the hopes they will return back to those regions and provide the health care services they have learned.”

Chapman said she was excited when she received a call granting her acceptance into the program.

“I have to say, compared to other interviews [for physician assistant programs], the kind of warmth and personal environment the faculty created made me feel very comfortable,” Chapman said. “The other schools definitely had a cold regimented, ‘We are going to kick your butt’ kind of environment.”

The program consists of three 15-week trimesters. The first year students are in the didactic or instructional phase completing courses like Research and Evidence Based Medicine, Pathophysiology, Applied Pharmacology and Health, Medicine and Society.

The second year consists of supervised clinical rotations like emergency medicine, general surgery, mental and behavioral health and orthopedics.

The program requires each student to participate and read the “One Book One University,” and also complete art requirements.

“There are art requirements for the program that do not exist anywhere else that I have applied,” Chapman said. “I have a background in theater so that really spoke to me that they recognized the humanities aspect would make for a better healthcare provider.”

Laura Cantrell, administrative assistant for the physician assistant program, said they approached each interview by assessing the personal attributes of each candidate.

“When we interview students and look at applications we use the holistic admission approach,” Cantrell said. “It is not just a matter of who got the best grades or highest GPA, we look at the whole person.”

Cantrell said the first week of the program proved to be overwhelming but rewarding for those involved.

“The students have enjoyed all of their lectures and faculty were very positive and open to answer all questions,” Cantrell said. “We had a meeting at the end of the week to find out how they were feeling and they were all super excited to be here and looking forward to the rest of it.”

The program is the first at La Verne to have to earn accreditation before it could officially begin.

“The way the accrediting programs [for physician assistant programs] work is you do not have a program if you are not accredited,” Cantrell said. “We had to wait until we physically got that accreditation before we could say yes we can have students.”

Cantrell said the program begin interviewing and accepting applications before learning they were accredited.

“As long as you disclose to your applicants that if the off chance we do not get accredited there will be no program,” Cantrell said. “We kept our applicants and accepted students even though we could not officially accept them until we got accreditation.”

The classes are held Monday through Thursday located off campus at 210 Bonita Ave. in Pomona.

Cantrell said the students are still trying to get comfortable in the space dedicated to the program.

“They are still getting a feel for it,” Cantrell said. “It is a new building off campus, but this is their floor, this is their program. You want to use the student lounge or student study room you can. They are still getting used to understanding they can use any room here.”

Chapman said she is ready to finally fulfill her goal of becoming a physician assistant.

“The physician assistant world is changing,” Chapman said. “I am most excited for the OTP [optimal team practice] movement. I am excited to hone my skills under someone else and find my groove in the medical world.”

Layla Abbas can be reached at

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