This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on March 23.
For the first time in its centuries-long history, Yale will offer a full-time online degree.
Soon, aspiring physician associates might be able to earn their Master of Medical Science degrees from Yale without relocating to New Haven. The School of Medicine has partnered with 2U, an educational technology company, to develop a program that will expand Yale’s on-campus PA program to non-local students as well. Through a combination of online courses, in-person clerkships at off-campus field sites pre-approved by Yale School of Medicine faculty and on-campus training sessions, non-local students would receive the same education as their on-campus peers for the same price.
In the past, some of the approximately 40 students accepted to the program each year have already completed these clinical clerkships away from Yale. The current tuition for the 28-month program is approximately $83,162.
This proposal is currently pending approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, and Program Director James Van Rhee said he expects to hear back in coming weeks. Linda Lorimer, vice president for global and strategic initiatives, said that if the approval comes within roughly the next six months, the program could be implemented in 2016.
“This online program will not only expand the program out of the classroom, but also allow us to reach the population of students that cannot come to New Haven due to their circumstances,” Van Rhee said.
The recent announcement comes at the end of over a year of discussions between the School of Medicine, the Office of Digital Dissemination and 2U. According to Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education, Yale decided to partner with 2U due to its commitment to academic excellence and its track record of collaborating with other institutions, such as Georgetown, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of North Carolina.
Van Rhee said Yale wants to expand its program naturally and reach different demographics across the nation. He also cited the projected 38 percent increase in employment of physician assistants by 2022, an uptick corresponding to an increased national demand, as a reason for the program overhaul. He added that the online course would encourage physician assistants to continue working in their hometown when they finish their training.
“If people from the rural part of the Midwest can stay at home and train, they are more likely to work there as clinicians in the future. This is the same thing for inner-city physician assistants,” he said. “We hope that this will increase the number of PAs in rural areas. This is our way of helping the country get more health care providers.”
Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, said the critical question will be about the quality of clerkships done at off-campus facilities, not the issue of completing coursework online. Other faculty interviewed expressed similar concerns, highlighting questions such as how to ensure the registered student is actually the one completing the online coursework.
The program’s online material will be “high quality productions,” tailor-made in studios by faculty members, not merely recordings of current lectures, Van Rhee said. Lorimer said the program would be very intensive because of the frequent interactions between students and faculty.
“This is not the kind of online educational endeavor that allows students to be passive,” Lorimer said.
The proposed course would also incorporate hands-on opportunities for students.
For example, non-local students will be required to attend several on-campus “intensive immersions,” — likely three in total, according to Van Rhee — each lasting five days. These immersions will allow students to learn hands-on skills that are difficult to convey through the internet, he added.
Over the course of the 28-month program, students will engage in a year of didactic training as well as 14 months of in-person clerkship. During the hands-on training component, students will work with physicians, PAs and nurses in order to physically practice the material they learned online.
Swineford said the new online PA program aligns perfectly with Yale’s overall online education strategy as it both experiments with new pedagogy for improving education and amplifies the impact of Yale teaching beyond campus. He added that educational technology platforms such as 2U have played a large role in de-stigmatizing online degrees.
“It is important to recognize the incredible role 2U has played in helping to remove the stigma,” he said. “2U has partnered with great institutions to deliver high-quality degrees for about five years now.”
Students interviewed were mixed on the announcement, with three of five coming down in favor of the program.
Currently, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies offers an Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, through which students can earn a professional certificate completely online. In 2011, the School of Nursing created a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, a hybrid degree program including on-campus and online education, designed for part-time study.
Yale launched its PA program in 1971.
Clarification: March 13
A previous version of this article misstated that Yale’s proposed PA degree will be the University’s first online degree; in fact, it will be the University’s first full-time online degree.