The Yale School of Medicine’s recently announced online Physician Associate program was not approved as a mere “class expansion” to the existing program by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, which published its decision online last Thursday.

On March 10, Yale announced its plan to increase its yearly intake of roughly 36 PA students to up to 350 by allowing students to receive their Masters of Medical Sciences degree online. The new degree was set to offer students the complete didactic portion of the roughly two-year degree via video lectures and discussion sections, with the practical component to be fulfilled during a two-week course on campus and off-campus clinical rotations completed at pre-approved sites in the students’ hometowns. However, following a wave of criticism from current Yale PA students and program alumni, the ARC-PA turned down Yale’s application for the online PA program to be considered as a class expansion. Now, the online PA program must be evaluated through the submission of a full accreditation application.

“The decision was made that this program was too different and that one cannot approach it as an increase in class size,” said Dean of the Yale School of Medicine Robert Alpern. “To be honest, it’s a reasonable response.”

During the ARC-PA’s meetings from March 5 to March 7, the commission reviewed 30 PA programs that were applying for program changes and were submitting required reports. Twenty-five of these reports were either accepted or approved by the commision. While three were not accepted in full, Yale’s request for a class expansion was the only program change that was outright denied.

Yale PA program director James Van Rhee, who himself is a commissioner for the ARC-PA, said the application was denied because of a new policy that requires programs to wait four years after submitting previous proposals before they can ask for an increase in class size. Van Rhee did not comment on when Yale made its previous proposal.

However, Alpern said that the proposal was denied because the commission believed that the proposed program would not be similar enough to Yale’s current PA program to be considered a class size expansion. He added that the University had been informed about the decision verbally “a week or two ago,” and that he was forwarded a letter addressed to Van Rhee on Tuesday that explained the reason for the denial.

“If we want to have the program, we will have to do it as a separate program and not as an expansion,” Alpern said.

At a March 12 town hall, students were told that the online program would be accredited as a class size expansion because that would be the quickest way to get accreditation, said Chandra Goff MED ’14, an alumna of the PA program. She added that they were told that applying as a separate program would take five years.

But at a Monday meeting with first-year students, Van Rhee said it will actually be quicker for the University to apply for accreditation as a separate program. He said this route to accreditation would take roughly a year and a half, contradicting his comments during the March town hall, Goff said.

Goff expressed confusion about this difference in information. But even before the application was rejected, several students and alumni of the program expressed concern that applying for approval of a simple class expansion was “dishonest” and “misleading,” with students like Lindsay Novak MED ’14 arguing that the new degree should, at the very least, have a different name than the one currently offered on campus.

“I’m surprised because the program director pitched it to us as though it was going to happen and that there was no reason [the ARC-PA] would deny it,” Novak said. She is relieved the program was not approved, she said.

Van Rhee said the medical school and PA program jointly decided to apply as a class size expansion because the online and on-campus programs would have the same admissions criteria, student curricula and examinations, clinical placements and summative student assessments. In an email to the current PA community and select alumni, Alpern said the prospect of an online program had been thoroughly studied by the medical school for six months and that the program would offer students who enroll online an education with the same high standards as those of the conventional program.

Yale’s PA community was first informed about the denial by a Facebook post that Goff made on the PA community’s group page. Students interviewed said they were disappointed in the lack of communication from the administration, which mirrors the administrations handling of the announcement of the program.

“The way this whole thing was run, it was never formally introduced, we never had any formal notification of it, so I’m not too surprised,” Novak said.