PA Studies Plans New Doctoral Program

A group of medical students at a lecture.

Building on its history of innovation in education, the Department of PA Studies at Wake Forest University School of Medicine is in the process of adding a new Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) program to its offerings.

Pending expected approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, leaders are aiming for the first students to begin their studies in summer 2024.

The program will offer tracks in research, education and leadership and will include multidisciplinary faculty from Wake Forest University’s Schools of Medicine, Business and Professional Studies. The asynchronous, online program is designed for working PAs and will take 24 months to complete.

Gayle Bodner, DHSc, PA-C, assistant professor and chair of PA Studies, said that at least 13 programs, including two in North Carolina, exist either predominantly or exclusively online offering post-graduate doctorates geared for PAs. Most of those emphasize clinical skills as part of post- professional degrees.

“Wake Forest has a longstanding and highly regarded history of educating PAs prepared to enter clinical practice, and we envision a doctoral degree for those seeking to develop their skills in specific areas of career growth outside of clinical practice,” Bodner said.

“In addition to developing educational and research skills, graduates of this program can advance the mission of teams charged with any number of health system quality metrics, including those relating to interprofessional and value-based clinical practice as well as ethical, legal and policy-based solutions in health care delivery.”

Bodner said she believes the new program is something that Wake Forest is well positioned to offer.

“This is uniquely interdisciplinary,” she said. “In some courses, our students will be enrolled with students from business, academic nursing or the School of Professional Studies. Involving other professions in their studies will broaden and diversify their thinking. A lot of other programs do not have the outstanding academic infrastructure of Wake Forest University or our School of Medicine to support that level of collaboration.”

Bodner credited Caroline Bell Sisson, MMS, PA-C ’13, assistant professor and vice chair of PA Studies, with leading a team that worked over several years analyzing data, leading discussions with academic deans and course directors from various schools, and developing the initial framework for courses and program outcomes. The team’s work led to the article “What Physician Assistants Prefer in a Post- professional Doctorate Program: A Cross-sectional Rating and Rankings Study,” which was published in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education.

New PA Certificate Program Added

A new certificate program, in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Behavior Change Patient Education, is being added for PA students. The program is a joint effort between the Department of PA Studies and Appalachian State University’s Exercise Science and Nutrition departments.

Sarah Garvick, MS, MPAS, PA-C, associate professor and associate program director for the PA Studies’ Boone campus, co-led the development of the program and its launch in fall 2023. The certificate program will prepare students to provide specific patient education regarding physical activity, nutrition and behavior change to a variety of patient populations with specific health conditions.

The 20-month program is available to students in the Wake Forest PA program as well as Appalachian State graduate students in the Exercise Science and Nutrition programs. The first 10 months are composed of interactive, didactic sessions, allowing for interprofessional collaboration, while the next 10 months are focused on clinical application experiences.

The inaugural cohort class began the program in September 2023 and will finish in April 2025.