When UT System President Randy Boyd made a stop at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Wednesday on his “Everywhere you look, UT” tour, he had the opportunity to meet with faculty and students from UTHSC’s Physician Assistant Program.
“If you want to be a leader who can serve their team, you have to know them,” Boyd said. He began August 3 aiming to visit more than 50 counties over the next three months to celebrate UT’s impact across Tennessee. Already, he is more than halfway through the journey.
Boyd’s first order of business at UTHSC was to offer a few words of thanks. “I don’t think presidents get around enough to say thank you,” he said. “Thank you for all the great work you do.”
Boyd’s late afternoon conversation at UTHSC took place in the Center for Health Care Improvement and Patient Simulation, where PA students do much of their training. UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD, and Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, were among those welcoming the president. Also attending was Emily Capadalis Love, president of the UT Alumni Association.
Paul “PJ” Koltnow, MS, MSPAS, PA-C, director of admissions and an assistant professor for the PA program, told the president that the program received more than 2,000 applicants for its 30 student slots this year. He explained that the program is dedicated to increasing the number of students from Tennessee who apply for and attend the program, with the idea that they will remain in the state after graduation to help fill gaps in the health care workforce.
“We have a duty as the state’s public PA program to serve the state,” Koltnow said. He asked the president how the UT System might help increase awareness among Tennesseans of the program and of the role of the physician assistant as a health care career option.
Zsachlayne Roguska, a PA student from Cumberland County, intends to return to East Tennessee when she graduates. She said she was drawn to the UTHSC program because of its low student-teacher ratio, training opportunities in the state-of the-art simulation facility, emphasis on service to the community, and the strength of the UT brand.
“I am planning on going back to Cumberland County and working in an underserved area,” Roguska said. “Being able to contribute to that and help my family and friends is a huge benefit to me.”
Carly Eakin, a first-year PA student, said tuition was a major factor in her choosing the UTHSC program. The cost of the two-year UTHSC program, which is shorter than other programs, is $54,000. This is considerably less than others in Tennessee.
“Our entire tuition is one year for the others,” she said. “Knowing that I am not going to be in debt” helped her pick UTHSC.
Brittany Bailey, a first-year PA student from Collierville, said she is happy to train in Memphis, where she has the potential to help with the many health issues in the community. “I wanted to be able to continue my education, so I can give back to my community that brought me to where I am,” she said.
The UTHSC Physician Assistant Program began in 2014, and graduates its 6th cohort in December. It has been part of the UTHSC College of Medicine since 2016, and achieved a 10-year accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc., in 2019, the highest accreditation given.
Boyd suggested that UT’s strong alumni organization can help spread the word about the program. He also said the wide-reaching UT Extension system could be helpful in reaching younger Tennesseans about the benefits of the program and the career.