Dixie State University and University of Utah meet to advance Physician Assistant Program

Legislature provides $1.5 million for DSU-U of U partnership

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After receiving an ongoing $1.5 million appropriation from the Utah State Legislature, Dixie State University welcomed faculty from the University of Utah School of Medicine to the Russell C. Taylor Health Science Building to coordinate the launch of a Physician Assistant Program.

“It’s a great way to get things going,” Dr. Carole Grady, dean of DSU’s School of Health Sciences, said. “We can get PAs in the community and provide a place for those students who are interested in staying in southern Utah and getting into a PA program.”

Funding for the partnership program was made possible by the work of local legislators, particularly Sen. Stephen Urquhart, Senate chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Jon Stanard, who serves as the House vice chair of the subcommittee.

The Utah Physician Assistant Program is one of the oldest PA programs in the country and is nationally recognized.

DSU President Richard B. Williams said that when he interviewed for his current position, he went to dinner afterward and ran into President David Pershing of the U, who suggested that if Williams were to be hired, the two universities should partner.

“As soon as I came, one of my first orders of business was to look at what academic programs we want to add here,” Williams said. “Through the strategic plan we found that there are healthcare worker shortages here … so I called President Pershing.”

Since then, Williams and Grady have been in frequent contact with University of Utah faculty to make the master’s program a reality.

The University of Utah has agreed to manage the program in its initial years until it is fully matriculated, after which DSU will assume full responsibility and funding for the program.

After being fully established, the funds for the program will be used to develop similar high-market demand programs between Dixie State and the U.

During the visit, Dr. John Houchins, University of Utah’s chief of the Physician Assistant Division, said that ultimately both universities have partnered to improve quality of life and access to healthcare for southern Utah.

“That’s the big win in the whole thing,” Houchins said.

Houchins and U of U Physician Assistant Program Director Karen Mulitalo both stressed the importance of the education being identical on both campuses and have said that the funding provided by the legislature will be an investment to ensure that happens.

Williams said that beginning programs such as this are very difficult, so the University of Utah will provide invaluable help.

“It’s an incredible program,” Williams said. “So to be able to say to the city and the community of St. George that we have this high-caliber program here is remarkable.”

The universities are also partnering with Intermountain Healthcare’s Dixie Regional Medical Center so students will be able to work with physicians in the community.

In addition to the funding received from the legislature, Dixie State also received ongoing amounts of $173,300 and $175,000 for Market Demand Programs and the USHE Engineering Initiative respectively, along with a one-time amount of $150,000 for the K-16 Technology Pipeline, a program devoted to developing computer programmers, designers and developers.

For more information about Dixie State’s School of Health Sciences, visit health.dixie.edu.

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