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UTRGV Master of Physician Assistant Studies program gets expansion approval

The UTRGV Department of Physician Assistant Studies, in the College of Health Affairs, has received approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education to enlarge its physician assistant master’s program over the next three years. Frank Ambriz (at right), chair of the department, said the MPAS degree paves the way for a high-demand career for students like Benito Lopez (at left), who is on track to graduate with the MPAS in December. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

The UTRGV Department of Physician Assistant Studies, in the College of Health Affairs, has received approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education to enlarge its physician assistant master’s program over the next three years. Frank Ambriz (at right), chair of the department, said the MPAS degree paves the way for a high-demand career for students like Benito Lopez (at left), who is on track to graduate with the MPAS in December. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – OCT. 11, 2016 – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is continuing its efforts to prepare graduates in healthcare professions by expanding the number of students admitted to the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program.

The Department of Physician Assistant Studies in the College of Health Affairs has received approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), to enlarge over the next three years.

“This comes as welcome news. We had hoped our application to increase our students would be approved. Now it is official, and we will proceed with our plans,” said Frank Ambriz, clinical associate professor, Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “The MPAS degree is one of today’s high-demand career paths.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says on its Occupational Outlook Handbook website that the outlook for employment of physician assistants is “projected to grow 30 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

Currently, the UTRGV MPAS program is capped at 50 students. But the ARC-PA now has approved:

  • A class size of 65, effective Aug. 1, 2017.
  • A class size of 80, effective Aug. 1, 2018.
  • And a class size of 100, effective Aug. 1, 2019.

UTRGV administration and the Department of Physician Assistant Studies have been preparing for this expansion by hiring new faculty. With its new hires for fall 2016, the number of faculty totals 15. The plan is to increase that by three, for a total of 18 within two years.

“One explanation for why the MPAS is in high demand is that the degree offers a highly paid position that allows an individual to complete a medical career in a relatively short time, and with less student debt than a medical degree,” Ambriz said.

Edcouch-Elsa native Benito Lopez, 29, who will graduate with the MPAS in December, offers another, more personal reason for continuing his education these past two and a half years.

“I come from a migrant family, and I’ve known all my life I wanted to do something in medicine,” he said.

When Lopez was in elementary school, his family went to Wisconsin in the summers. In his high school years, his parents decided to stay in Texas in the hopes of keeping their children’s school curriculum more consistent. During those years, the family would relocate to Plainview in the Texas Panhandle.

“I witnessed the downside of poor communication between medical personnel and my parents,” Lopez said. “I was considered too young to translate with a nurse or doctor, and they would bring in an adult who was supposed to be a translator, and I could tell the message was not being correctly passed back and forth between my parents and the medical professional. These experiences planted the seed for my future.”

Lopez currently is fulfilling required clinical hours at Guajira Family Clinic in Edinburg.

“I see my own patients, and then I present the patient history and exam findings to my supervisor, either the doctor or the physician assistant,” he said. “Then I share my thoughts on what I think the diagnosis, treatment and management will be, and we collaborate and make decisions about patient care.”

Lopez and those in his December graduating cohort will sit for the national licensure exam in January 2017. Those who pass will be awarded their licensing credentials in mid-March.

“I like Dr. Griego’s manner, with his patients and his staff,” he said. “I have received a lot of hands-on experience at Guajira Family Clinic, and I am learning a lot about insulin management, which is critical to many of the South Texas population. Everyone here at the clinic has been so encouraging and has made an impact on my professional development.”

Lopez plans to stay in the Rio Grande Valley, as do most of his classmates, and fill the high need for physician assistants.

UTRGV awarded 49 MPAS degrees at the December 2015 commencement.

“At the current class size of 50, we have been able to accept only 4 percent of the 1,200 applicants,” Ambriz said. “This will improve somewhat with the program’s expansion, yet it remains that the application process will continue to be extremely competitive.

“The need is great, the pay is excellent, and UTRGV is working hard to meet the demand,” he said.

For more information about the Master of Physician Assistant Studies, contact Elva Davila at 956-665-2298 or maria.davila@utrgv.edu.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Cheryl.Taylor@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Senior Writer / 956-882-8787

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UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742