As of July 1, the Department of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) will have a new leader and a new home. Stephanie Storgion, MD, FAAP, FCCM, will chair the department, as it moves from the College of Health Professions, where it started two years ago, to the College of Medicine. She will report to David M. Stern, MD, Robert Kaplan Executive Dean for the College of Medicine.
“We are lucky to have Dr. Storgion as the new chair of this program,” Dr. Stern said. “She brings an exceptional level of experience, dedication and leadership to our newest department. I have 100 percent confidence in her ability to get the program its permanent accreditation, and then to lead it to be one of the outstanding PA programs in the nation.”
“We have a really good foundation, having been in the College of Health Professions, and we intend to build on that,” Dr. Storgion said. “We intend to shine a better spotlight on the program.
“There are a lot of physicians right here on campus who are not aware of this program,” she continued. “I think being in the College of Medicine is going to make a big difference. It will be clearer where we fit in, and it will afford us greater access to the professors who teach our students.”
UTHSC, which has the only PA Studies program in the state associated with a public university, welcomed its first class of 26 students in January 2014. That class graduated in December 2015. “They are employed in many different places around the region and the country,” Dr. Storgion said. “We had 100-percent pass rate on the PANCE, the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.”
Dr. Storgion joined UTHSC in 1987 as an instructor in Pediatrics, becoming an assistant professor in 1988, and a professor in 2004. She currently is medical director of the Intermediate Care Unit at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and co-medical director of Pediatric Neuro Intensive Care there as well as coordinator of faculty mentoring in the Department of Pediatrics at UTHSC. She doesn’t plan to give up any of these duties to chair Physician Assistant Studies, though she admitted she may have to give up “a little” clinical time. “I do get my 10,000 steps in a day walking back and forth from here to Le Bonheur,” she said.
“This is the beginning of my 30th year at UTHSC,” she said. “I have had tremendous opportunities at UTHSC to develop my career as a physician educator. I’ve been a pediatric intensivist. I think I’ve sat in every elected position at Le Bonheur.
“So why would I want to take on more responsibilities?” she said. “I think I can take everything I’ve learned and apply it here – my clinical skills, my administrative skills, my leadership skills that I’ve developed in my career. I can take everything I’ve learned working with faculty, with trainees and with students and use it all within this program.
“There is definitely an urgent need for physician assistants, especially in this part of the country,” she said. “We continue to not have enough primary care providers in our region and throughout the country. Physician Assistants are highly trained, skilled medical professionals who practice along with physicians within the health care team, providing excellent care to the patients.”
Dr. Storgion’s first priority is to lead the program from the provisional accreditation it currently enjoys to permanent accreditation. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, the accrediting body for PA programs, will visit UTHSC this fall. “That’s the normal sequence when you have a new program,” she said.
The PA program is also looking for a new program director, which will be a distinct position from the department chair. Lekha George, MD, currently is the interim program director. Dr. Storgion said the goal is a program director who will be a physician assistant. “The program director is the person whose responsibility is to make certain the educational components all are coordinated into a seamless experience,” she said. “As chair, my job will be to support the program director, to get this program known within the community, to support the efforts to establish it within the UT College of Medicine, and above all, to grow this program.”
That means increasing the quantity of students without decreasing the quality. “In the next two to three years, we want to expand but with the same level of excellent student candidates that we already have.”
Her long-term goal is even more ambitious. “My vision is that this will be the premier PA program in this region of the country, and will be known throughout the country as a top-tier program,” she said.
PA Program at UTHSC at a Glance
- two-year program
- 25 students graduated in 2015
- 28 students expected to graduate in 2016
- 30 students expected to graduate in 2017
- currently the only PA program in the state of Tennessee affiliated with a public university
- one of 234 PA programs in the United States, according to the Physician Assistant Education Association