Meharry Medical College, located in Nashville, Tenn., is actively working to increase the number of Black medical professionals with the launch of their accredited Physician Assistant Sciences Program last year. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mylika Scatliffe,
AFRO Women’s Health Writer

Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. has launched a physician assistant program in its School of Graduate Studies and Research, the nation’s largest private independent historically Black academic health sciences center. 

The first class of 25 aspiring physician assistants began their course of study in June 2022. The students have already started down the 28-month path of course work designed to produce adjunct primary care providers.

“Physician assistants are important contributors to health care teams today,” said Dr. James E. K. Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College. 

“Their engagement in patient care can help fill critical gaps in access to care and services that exist across our nation, and that are particularly acute among Black and Brown communities.”

A physician assistant is a licensed medical professional who can diagnose, perform many medical procedures, prescribe medicines and order medical tests, under the supervision of a medical doctor.  

The program’s director is Michelle Drumgold, a Meharry assistant professor. 

According to her, applicants do not have to present a minimum graduate record examination score or undergraduate grade point average.  “We have been intentional about asking questions on the application that align with the mission and vision of not only the program, but the institution, and based on their responses we’re able to determine if we believe if they are a mission fit and if we want to invite them for an interview,” said Drumgold. 

The students will receive hands-on experience with real patients, Meharry officials said.  

Meharry is one of a handful of historically Black colleges and universities to offer a physician assistant program. The others are Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in California, the University of Maryland -Eastern Shore, Xavier University in New Orleans, and Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The physician assistant profession is a new one. Drumgold said she was unaware of PA’s while she was an undergrad.  

“It’s like medical school but in a little more than half the time,” she explained. “We’re training future medical professionals and 25 is the number of students that program and institutional leadership decided would be appropriate to ensure we have the resources, space, and clinical rotations sufficient to meet the accreditation standards and provide the best experience possible,”

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