Despite persistent and vocal student opposition, the Yale School of Medicine will move forward with its plan to create an online Physician Associate program, Deputy Dean for Education Richard Belitsky announced last week.
At two town hall meetings earlier this fall, current PA students expressed concerns about the school’s plan to launch an online version of the current residential Physician Associate program. The points of concern ranged from the negative impact that the online program might have on the reputation of the PA profession to the proposed program’s inability to provide sufficient clinical training for remote students. Much of the feedback that students offered in March, when the school made its first attempt to gain accreditation for an online program, has remained unaddressed.
Now, with the program set to proceed, many students said they feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
“I think this current administration has a disregard for students’ input,” said Jon Allen MED ’13, who was president of the PA class during his graduating year. “Student opinions are just put on the back burner. [The administration is] going to bulldoze this through regardless of what our opinion is of it.”
The proposed online program, which would run separately from the current residential program of roughly 40 students per class, has been in the works for more than a year and a half. This spring, after students spoke out against the project, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant rejected the University’s proposal, which was billed as a class expansion, because of a technicality: Schools applying for class size expansion must wait four years after submitting past proposals to submit another. The rejection letter, though, made it clear that if the program were to move forward, it would have to do so as an entirely separate entity, Belitsky said.
At the Aug. 28 town hall meeting, held by Belitsky and Van Rhee, the two administrators said that if an online program is launched, it will have a different name from the residential program, likely including the word “online.”
Following the second meeting, Belitsky told the News that students have expressed “a broad range of opinions” about the proposed program, but he did not comment on whether there was a consensus of student opinion or what that consensus was. He added that he and his colleagues continue to seek student feedback — but many students questioned whether that feedback will be given any attention.
Mark Volpe MED ’15, who attended the Aug. 28 town hall, said most of the students present seemed to still oppose the idea of an online PA program, even if that program is technically a separate entity. Many PAs feel that the meetings Van Rhee and Belitsky held were only undertaken to acquiesce student outcry about not being involved in the decision process in March, when the program was first announced, Volpe said.
“The decision to go forward appeared to be a forgone conclusion,” he said.
Six months after the initial proposal, students still identified the same problems with the program, and they still feel their worries are not being addressed.
Allen said he does not think a high-quality PA program can be administered online since dissection and clinical skills labs are currently such a large part of the didactic portion of the degree. He also said that while the administration can find good clinical rotation sites for the PAs already on campus, it would be difficult to make sure program sites across the country are also up to par for the much larger number of online students.
“My thoughts [about an online PA Program] haven’t changed since their first go at accreditation,” said Allen. “I am 100 percent opposed to it and I haven’t heard one person say they support it.”
All students interviewed echoed concerns raised at both town halls that the reputation of the PA profession could take a severe hit if their training is known to be available online.
Asked directly about plans to assuage concerns about affecting the reputation of the PA profession, Belitsky did not respond except to note that he and other officials will create an advisory group including student participants.
Volpe said that there could also be a range of unintended consequences if the online program becomes a reality. He said several of his instructors have told him they will stop teaching Yale residential students if an online program is implemented.
Chandra Goff MED ’14, an alumna of the PA program, said that while she would prefer that the school scrap the idea of an online program altogether, there is some evidence that student concerns have been taken into account this time around. Goff said she is relieved that the online program will be separate from the residential program and will specify the online mode of education in the title.
But she said that the school still has not shown that they have planned the program any more thoroughly than they did during the initial proposal. The administration, for instance, has not planned a formal way of gathering student input in the new plan.
“An attempt to have a legitimate, safe online medical training program will have to involve careful, thorough planning, and I am not convinced this has been done,” she said.
Program Director James Van Rhee is a commissioner for the ARC-PA.