Mississippi College

Mississippi College Physician Assistant Enrollment Surges to 90 Graduate Students

June 21, 2013

Her caring heart and desire to help meet the state’s acute medical needs led Melissa Minor to enroll in Mississippi College’s physician assistant program.

“I chose the profession so I could return to my hometown and help with healthcare issues,” Minor says. The Natchez resident and Mississippi Valley State University graduate is a new member of the Class of 2015. Her classes on the Clinton campus began in late May.

A former Natchez High teacher, Minor plans to invest the next 30 months mastering the skills to become a medical professional in a state with the nation’s worst rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. 

The challenges of the medical profession are vast in America’s poorest state.

Other Class of 2015 newcomers at Mississippi College are equally passionate when discussing their reasons for becoming physician assistants. They are training to become professionals joining medical teams under the supervision of physicians. Physician assistants conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, assist in surgeries and counsel in preventative healthcare, among other things.

“I wanted to make a difference locally and hopefully in the missionary field,” said P.A. student Melanie Furr. The Ridgeland resident is a 2012 Mississippi College graduate with a degree in biomedical sciences.

At the Baptist Healthplex, headquarters of MC’s physician assistant program, it’s shaping up to be an especially busy summer for students, faculty and staff.

MC enrollment in physician assistant studies peaked at 90 graduate students with 30 new members of the Class of 2015 enrolling in May. The Christian university will award master of science degrees in medicine to its first P.A. students in December 2013.

Dr. Bob Philpot, chairman of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies and Dr. Rod Cutrer, the medical director, are part of a team of eight faculty members and four staffers working around the clock to lead the program. Two additional faculty members were hired this year to meet growing enrollment needs.

“This is an exciting summer for the new students,” Philpot said. “Things are going well in the program.”

This summer will also mark the winter graduation day countdown for the first 30 students beginning their studies in May 2011 in Mississippi’s first and only physician assistant program.

MC’s physician assistant program works with the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, federal clinics and other medical facilities in the region. Programs like the 10,000-member Mississippi Army National Guard continue to actively recruit P.A. students.

“The National Guard continues to be an attractive alternative for our students,” Philpot said.

There are 80,000 physician assistants practicing in the United States, including about 80 in Mississippi. Presently, there are more physician assistant graduate students enrolled at Mississippi College than practicing in the Magnolia State.

“A big challenge for us is still educating the public about PAs,” Philpot said. “The PA -physician team concept is new to Mississippi.”

Job possibilities for the Class of 2013 look promising. “Many of them have job prospects. A few have already signed contracts,” Philpot said.

A recent MC biology graduate, Allison Cooper of Hattiesburg isn’t thinking of a job right now. She’s spending an enormous amount of time pouring over her books and learning from classmates and professors as she begins her P.A. studies at her alma mater.

Initially, the new member of the Class of 2015 wanted to become a pharmacist. But the more she found out about opportunities to serve as a physician assistant, Cooper discovered it was a perfect fit. “It became my No. 1 option,” Allison said while taking a brief break from her studies. “I really like the MC program’s class size and how personal it is.”

For additional information, contact Dr. Bob Philpot at 601.925.7370 or reach him at philpot@mc.edu.

Photo: Class of 2015 P.A. students at Mississippi College

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