Zachary Landau | Staff Writer
On Oct. 11, students in Duquesne’s Physician Assistant Studies Program learned that the school’s standing with the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) might be in trouble.
In a meeting with students of Duquesne’s Physician Assistant program, Department Chair and Professor Bridget Calhoun and Rangos School of Health Sciences Interim Dean Paula Turocy explained that the ARC-PA has put the department on accreditation probation for two years.
Probation, as explained on the ARC-PA’s website, is a temporary status for programs that either fail to meet the board’s standards or “the capability of the program to provide an acceptable educational experience for its students is threatened.”
The cause of Duquesne’s probation is over-enrollment, according to Duquesne’s physician assistant program’s accreditation FAQ page. During the admission process, the department estimates the percentage of accepted students that choose to enroll in the program. In other words, more acceptance letters are sent out than the department expects to enroll under the assumption that some students will choose not to come to Duquesne.
In recent years, Duquesne overestimated how many potential physician assistant students would refuse their acceptance letters. Therefore, Calhoun and Turocy self-reported that the program exceeded its 40 student allotment in both the 4th year and 5th year classes. This allotment is set by the ARC-PA.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Duquesne conferred 55 Bachelor’s degrees and 50 Master’s Degrees in the Physician Assistant program in 2014. According to Calhoun and Turocy, 67 students are currently enrolled in the freshman class.
As listed on the ARC-PA’s website, if a program “fails to comply with accreditation requirements in a timely manner,” they risk having a “focused site visit and or risk having its accreditation withdrawn.”
Calhoun assured students in the program that probation will not be a problem for them currently.
In an email sent out to Duquesne physician assistant students, Calhoun said the program is still accredited and that probation will not “affect your ability to proceed through the clinical year and will [not] affect your ability to sit for the initial certification examination following your graduation in August.”
Calhoun also reassured students that probation would not change the program in a tangible way.
“Your education will proceed as planned, and you will not notice any changes in the quality and rigor of our program,” she wrote.
Current students are unphased by the change in the accreditation status. Kaitlyn Eagle, a fourth year physician assistant student and president of the Physician Assistant Student Association, is not worried.
“In my opinion,” Eagle said, “the probation of our program does not and will not affect the students negatively at all. This probation status does not reflect the excellence of Duquesne Physician Assistant Studies.”
Some students, however, express doubts over the image probation casts over the program. Shelby Wasil, a fourth year physician assistant student and a member of the Physician Assistant Student Association, is primarily worried about the effect on incoming students.
“I’m a little concerned that prospective students may only see our probation at surface level and not look into the reason behind it,” Wasil said. “Obviously, if a program is on probation for something negative … then that could deter incoming students. But our program isn’t on probation for [a negative] reason.”
The department reinforces that they are already coordinating with the ARC-PA to rectify the situation.
“There are two more reports that we must submit, one in December 2016 and one in January 2017,” Calhoun and Turocy said in a written document sent to The Duke.
Calhoun and Turocy, in the same document, also said that the department has already increased their staff and equipment to accommodate large class sizes.
In the meantime, students like Wasil are still confident in their program.
“I know that all students of the program are receiving an education of the highest quality, and nothing about this probationary status is changing that fact.”