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New director eager for P.A. challenge

Physician assistant program ‘has all the pieces in place’


​When high school or college students consider a career as a physician assistant, Scott Massey wants them to immediately think of Central Michigan University.

That's because the state's best P.A. program will be in Mount Pleasant.

Massey, the program's new director, set that goal. He sees a lot to build on already.

"I think our program has all the pieces in place," he said.

And if you're looking at P.A. programs, what's not to like? Massey points to:

  • "A proven track record of achievement." Over the past five years, all but three students passed the P.A. certification exam on the first try. With each class averaging up to 40 students, Massey called that incredible.
  • An experienced staff working with a successful curriculum. CMU's physician assistant program has been around for 20 years, graduating its first class in July 1998. About 40 percent of the country's P.A. programs are new, he said, and many have yet to graduate a class.
  • A student-centered atmosphere. "The faculty and staff sincerely care about the students' success," Massey said. Also, the student retention rate is close to 100 percent. "I think those are some huge things," he said.
  • Active research. Massey cited faculty work in student stress and diabetes as examples.
  • Small classes, with an average of about 30 students. "When the classes are small, like under 40 students, a relationship exists," he said. "From 40 to 100, there's a different dynamic."
  • Thirty-seven percent of CMU's physician assistant grads are employed in underserved areas of Michigan, according to the department website.

Massey likes that last number. He's a big supporter of providing help where it's needed most — such as rural regions, low-income urban areas, in the military or even in prisons — and a fan of the students who share the same ideal.

"For me, that kind of mission goes back to the root of our profession," he said.

The new director sees no reason why CMU's program can't be ranked first in the state or one of the top 25 in the country.

To do that requires a hard look at the entire program, he said.

"Students actually pass their certification exam at a very high rate here," he said, citing one example. "But I want to go beyond that. How are they learning? How can the learning process be enhanced to the point where they're not only doing well, they're excelling?"

Massey sees himself leading the way. He's the rare P.A. director with a Ph.D., and he considers analysis, statistics, research — and especially making assessments — as his core strengths.

Massey points to what he sees as an asset in the same building as the P.A. program: the CMU College of Medicine.

He envisions the college and the P.A. program — which is part of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions — working closer together with more shared resources and learning experiences.

Massey would like to see P.A. and med students do their off-campus rotations in the same places at the same time. Their experiences would be different, but the learning would be done together.

"I think that will enhance the P.A. program's reputation and standing," he said.

Massey has 25 years of experience in physician assistant education. Immediately before coming to CMU, he directed the P.A. program at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

"This program has a really good reputation of placing its students all over the state," Massey said." My hope is that this program will result in stellar physician assistants that will continue our reputation of being the best P.A. program in Michigan."

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