Xavier University

Ochsner, Xavier, aim to diversify the Physician Assistant profession with new master’s program

March 22, 2019

Ochsner Health System and Xavier University have partnered to launch a new Physician Assistant graduate program that will kick off in January 2020.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the physician assistant profession to grow by 37 percent over the next decade as demand for healthcare services increase because of an aging population.

Over the next five years the profession is likely to grow from 123,000 physician assistants nationally to 170,000.

Varsha Gusman, the director of the Xavier Physician Assistant program, said that as the number of physician assistants in the U.S. grows she hopes the partnership with Ochsner will play a role in fighting the lack of diversity which has plagued the profession.

“What we are seeing is a lack of diversity in this profession with minorities representing less than 4 percent of this profession,” she said.

A study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants found a significant disparity between the number of people who identify as white who matriculated in PA programs compared to those who identify as black or African-American.

Between 2003 to 2013 the percentage of white matriculants in PA programs nationally increased from 76.5 percent to 81.8 percent. Meanwhile the percentage of black or African-American students dropped from 6.2 percent to 4.4 percent in that same time period.

Over the years Xavier University has built a reputation in successfully graduating some of the highest numbers of black pre-med students in the U.S. In 2017, Xavier was second to only Howard University in Washington D.C. in graduating the highest number of pre-med students who identify as either black or African-American.

Gusman, who will also serve as clinical assistant professor of professional programs in the Physician Assistant Department added, “We want to increase the diversity within this profession and create an environment where we can have students of diverse backgrounds.”

The PA program, which leads to a master’s degree in health sciences, involves 12 months of classroom training at Xavier followed by 16 months of clinical training at various Ochsner facilities. Students will complete 11 rotations and study with healthcare professionals across different specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and behavioral health.

“Physician Assistant is a very interdisciplinary practice,” said Dr. Leonardo Seoane, the chief academic officer at Ochsner Health System. “The students will be doing all of their clinical work at Ochsner Medical School, training alongside with our medical students and nurses. We are really excited about this.”

The PA program is part of long-standing relationship between the healthcare system and the university, who first partnered in 1980 to extend clinical training to pharmacy students at the university.

Xavier will open enrollment for the program in mid-April and anticipate a start date in January 2020. The initial cohort will be open to 40 students.

For more information or to apply to the new Xavier University and Ochsner Physician Assistant program, visit www.xula.edu/physician-assistant-program or call (504) 520-5119.