With a focus on providing its physician assistant (PA) students the most outstanding learning opportunities, faculty and students at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Health Professions couldn’t be more excited about “what’s new” for those pursuing PA careers.
It’s a brand-new building and refreshed facilities on the university’s Midland campus, with more than 48,000 sq. ft. total, in which students can hone their PA career skills. “We already had a building here, but this project expanded the facility, and renovated an older portion of that facility,” says Midland Regional Dean and program director Christina Robohm, DMSC, PA-C.
“We have such a shortage of providers, especially in rural West Texas and the Permian Basin,” she says. “We’re obviously not on the main Lubbock campus, partly to make sure we’re improving healthcare here. The PA profession is one of the solutions to help alleviate the primary care shortage, especially in rural areas.”
There’s now a collaborative classroom, student lounge, and study spaces, but the hallmark of the new offering is an anatomy cadaver lab. It’s nice to have this in Midland, she says, because formerly, PAs had to travel to the university’s Lubbock campus for that lab at the Institute of Anatomical Sciences.
With 287 accredited PA programs—by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.—prospective PAs have plenty of choices. Those who apply, and are chosen at TTUHSC, are assuredly a great fit for the university’s goals and objectives. The program is 22 years old, and this is its third expansion.
The current project cost $30 million, with State Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), contributing $20 million from the 86th Texas legislature. “Another $10 million was raised through partnerships with community foundations,” says Robohm.
The Texas sun shined on the project’s progress, since it ticked along smoothly even during COVID-19. Ground was broken in March 2021, and the official ribbon-cutting occurred May 16, 2022.
“Supply chain difficulties did add some complications, but we worked through them to get open on time,” Robohm says.
Students who complete the Master of Physician Assistant Studies undergo 27 months of training, with 15 months devoted to an academic focus. “We also have service-learning opportunities in the community,” Robohm says. Then students take part in a 12-month clinical experience, with opportunities for clinical rotations in all 108 counties in the West Texas TTUHSC service area that includes parts of New Mexico.
“Everybody completes work in underserved and rural locations as part of their rotations,” she says. The goal is to give PA students deeper experiences in rural and underserved healthcare, so ultimately, they may want to continue serving in that practice environment.
Robohm says the university has recently been funded with a HRSA grant specifically for rural health that will allow longitudinal rural rotations—a minimum of 12 weeks at the same rural site.
“This will be family medicine, emergency room, or other assignments in primary care,” Robohm says. “Because PAs will be at that site for a longer period than a single rotation, they can develop an additional curriculum for rural healthcare that can be integrated across the didactic year of the program, one that assess specific needs.”
The admissions process looks carefully at candidates’ backgrounds and experiences, along with grade point averages. “We try to identify those people who will fulfill our mission to help alleviate healthcare shortages here,” she says. “Every student we accept has what it takes to go to medical school—they’re focused and centered.”
She says the institution promotes a values-based culture. “It’s our vision to ensure we care for a population in the greatest need,” says Robohm. “We roll up our sleeves here and get things done.”