Physician assistant program celebrates 40 years at WSU
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Wichita State University physician assistant program, one of the oldest in the United States and the only PA program in Kansas.
The program began in fall 1972, with its first class of only 12 students starting in January 1973. Four decades later, 96 students are enrolled in the program, and 1,200 have graduated.
The function of a physician assistant is to perform diagnostic, therapeutic, preventative and health maintenance services with the supervision of a physician as part of a health care team. This allows for more effective and focused application of the physician’s expertise and skills.
Bunton, who has seen more than 20 years of the program’s evolution, graduated in 1987 from WSU with a Bachelor in Health Science. In 1990, she was hired as an academic coordinator and instructor at the university. She teaches medical history and physical exam, applied clinical practice and clinical assessment seminar.
“My favorite aspect is teaching medical history and physical exam,” said Bunton. “One of my professors used to say that a good history and physical exam is the bread and butter of being a physician assistant, and I think that’s still true.”
Originally housed at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, the program relocated to the College of Health Professions in Ahlberg Hall on the WSU main campus in 1980. Since then, the program has progressed from awarding a certificate to a bachelor’s degree and, in 2004, to a graduate program offering a master’s degree.
“When I started, there were two other people teaching and 30 students in a class,” said Bunton. “Now we have about 500 applicants a year and accept 48.”
Well-rounded clinical experience a tool for success
Because of WSU’s location, Bunton said students are given unique learning opportunities they may not receive from PA programs at other universities. The program offers clinical experience in 170 sites across Kansas and a rotation in Bolivia.
“So much of Kansas is rural and underserved, so students get exposure to areas without as many resources on hand,” said Bunton. “Right now, we are double the national average of graduates who work in rural areas.”
Another advantage that students in the PA program benefit from is the urban location of the university.
“Our students have access to physicians and health care providers who teach year after year after year for no additional pay,” said Bunton. “We also have KU Med School in town who we are working more closely with.”
Although WSU students receive top-notch instruction from professors with years of clinical experience, Bunton believes the experiences they gain outside of the classroom hold a high value for students after graduation.
“Our students go through a variety of rotations in urban facilities and rural areas, which helps them make contacts,” said Bunton. “They are well-rounded, and I think that helps them find jobs.”