Dr. Jennifer Momen

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The next step in the ongoing mission of West Virginia University’s healthcare and medical arm is to train students in one of the most promising growth fields in the health care industry.

“Physician assistants are really trained in the medical model,” said program director Dr. Jennifer Momen. “They are certified and licensed medical professionals. They are trained to obtain patients’ histories, perform physical exams just like physicians would do, make a diagnosis, and formulate a treatment plan.

They’re really working with that medical team. They’ll work closely with nurses, very closely with other health care providers.”

The WVU School of Medicine will launch the new physician assistant education program in 2020, a 26-month full-time graduate program that leads to a master’s degree in health sciences.

A maximum of 25 students per class will engage in four semesters of classroom instruction and an entire year of clinical training.

“It kind of really sits well within the University mission and the mission of the medical school,” Dr. Momen said. “Our program mission and goals fall right into that in terms of trying to increase access for patients, especially patients that live in these rural areas that are under-served.”

Dr. Momen, who came to WVU after a career in private practice and time spent as an educator at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, said the challenges of providing rural care need to be met.

“It is our hope to, number one, try to attract students that either currently live in West Virginia or have ties to the state so that perhaps they may be more likely to stay and practice here where they are needed,” she said. “We hope that no matter where our students come from, they will see and appreciate the challenges that these people in rural areas face and hopefully feel a desire to stay and make a difference.”

The only attraction won’t be an altruistic desire to serve the under-served, though. According to Dr. Momen, the field is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent over the next decade. The median salary is $104,000. Additionally, several major publications have ranked this field consistently at or near the top of lists of most promising future careers, particularly for the Millennial generation.

“Forbes ranked it number one in the most promising jobs for Millennials,” she said. “A lot of good positive press about this profession, so we are very hopeful that we will be able to attract a good set of candidates and hopefully entice them to stay in our state.”

WVU has applied for Accreditation-Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. If WVU achieves accreditation, the first class would launch in January 2020.

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