WEST LIBERTY - The first class of West Liberty University's new master of science in physician assistant studies had its orientation Wednesday, kicking off its first graduate program on the school's main campus.
The program's 18 students will start classes Monday in newly renovated and fully equipped classrooms and laboratories. It is the only physician assistant program at a state-funded institution in West Virginia. Dr. Allan M. Bedashi, department chair and program director, said there are two other programs in the southern part of the state, but West Liberty will be the first in the northern area to provide a degree in physician assistant studies providing a degree for one of the fastest growing fields in the nation.
The physician assistant field is expected to grow by 30 percent within the next 20 years, which is much faster than the average growth rate according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Forbes magazine ranked physician assistant studies as the top master's degree for long-term employment.
Bedashi said the program was created in an effort to meet the need for physician assistants for local medical facilities. He said there will be shortages in the near future when many older physicians in the area retire and leave behind positions that need to be filled.
"Because of the local needs, the university thought it was important to establish this program. We had a conference with physicians in the local area, and many of them stated the fact that they weren't able to find physician assistants to fill the positions that were available," Bedashi said. "One of our goals was to provide the area trained students to fulfill this need."
The physician assistant program had been in the works since West Liberty went into university status four years ago and the school was planning to expand its graduate school offerings.
"For me, my view coming from California to West Virginia to start this program was to create an idea and bring it into reality - to put the program in place," Bedashi said. "To be able to create something from nothing is my main reason for coming here. The aim is to train students and hopefully a lot will be from West Virginia and will be able to stay in the area and be able to provide medical needs for rural areas."
Students in the physician assistant program will be able to choose a specialty in their second year and gain clinical experience in local hospitals and clinics including Wheeling Hospital, Ohio Valley Medical Center, East Ohio Regional Hospital, West Virginia University Hospitals and a number of private practices.
Bedashi also said the future Campbell Hall of Health Science, for which ground will be broken Monday, will provide facilities for physician assistant studies allowing the program to expand over the next few years.
The program will begin accepting applications for the next class in the fall.