The physician assistant profession is one of the fastest growing today. The Salus Physician Assistant Studies Program is based on the university's legacy of excellence in clinical education. In a recent podcast, Salus project manager, Amie Leighton, and PA program director, Donna Agnew, talked to us about the program's exciting new renovations and updates.

Amie: I'm Amie Leighton. I'm a project manager for Salus. I've been a licensed architect for 20 years, and I've worked for Salus the last three years. I basically help administration plan, design, and construct most of our campus improvements here at Salus.

Donna: Hi, I'm Donna Agnew. I have the privilege of serving as the director of Salus' Physician Assistant Program. I have 20 years [of] experience in practice in internal medicine.

Q: What renovations is the PA program undergoing right now?

Amie: Salus received a matching grant of what was up to $500,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Governor Wolf for improvements to the facilities used by the Physician Assistant Program. We are using those funds for improvements to classrooms and labs. The project can basically be broken down into about three parts. The first of which is minor renovations to the existing skills training lab. Basically, we're updating, providing a new ceiling and improving lighting to the existing space.

PA lab renovations

Second part was to renovate two classrooms on the fourth floor. One of those will be a traditional lecture-style class, and the other will be a collaborative classroom, which will have pod-style tables and digital displays around the room for group work and interaction.

The third part, which is the part that's really exciting, is that we are creating a brand new patient simulation lab. The new space is designed for students to practice their clinical and patient interaction skills in an environment that mimics real world doctor's office. Technology, cameras essentially, will be in place in the exam rooms to record the encounters for remote testing and by faculty to review in a learning environment.

Currently, we're just finishing completion of the renovations to the existing lab space. The new and renovated classrooms are scheduled to be done by the end of the summer. We're targeting late August for that work. And the patient simulation lab, which got a bit of a delayed start because of those closures we've experienced, should be open probably the end of October, is when we're targeting for that.

PA lab renovations
Q: How will these new features benefit future and current Salus University students?
Donna: What is exciting about this is that this more than doubles our clinical lab space. We have had the renovations to our physical diagnosis laboratory space, which is a 10 bay open space for students to learn a technique of examination. The clinical simulation space will have students participate in, both the instruction and the practice, and even formative and summative assessments of their clinical and patient care skills. The new space will also allow for, as Amie referred to, standardized patient encounters, as well as, patient case scenarios, both emergent, acute, as well as, maintenance of chronic conditions.

Also, what this space will afford us, is the ability to expand our technical procedural skills that students learn. Currently, they do suturing, splinting, casting, immunizations, IV access, blood gases. So there's numerous skills that are required of physician assistants from a primary care perspective even, that we currently teach. By having this space, we'll be able to expand the types of skills that we teach in addition to enhancing our ultrasound instruction that we started last year. So we're really excited to have this opportunity for students.
standardized patient/simulation lab
Q: How is Salus' PA program different from other PA programs?

Donna: I think that there's three features that really distinguish us from other programs. And there's quite a few, particularly in the Philadelphia area. Pennsylvania has probably the largest number of PA programs. So we do have a lot of competition out there, but I think we have three really important features and strengths that I'd like to speak to. One, is that we have early and ongoing patient exposure in the clinical settings. And this is integrated throughout the curriculum. This allows us to foster student critical thinking skills, apply what is learned in the classroom to really current, real life medical practice.

Students are afforded in their fall semester, in the very first semester, just a few weeks after starting classes, they have the opportunity to practice their history taking, the technique of examination in a hospital setting with the assistance of a faculty member. And then, as part of their clinical problem-solving courses in the spring and summer semesters, students rotate through family medicine practices in a variety of healthcare disciplines. And this helps them better understand the benefits of collaborating as part of an interprofessional team. Students have remarked and preceptors have remarked, that students have an easy transition because of these preclinical experiences, to adapt to their clinical phase of the program.

The second strength that I think we have and distinguishing feature, is our anatomy instruction. The program offers students on site, full cadaver dissection that's augmented with virtual anatomy. We also have two anatomage tables, which are used to supplement physical diagnosis courses to help remediate students and allows students to revisit and dust off their anatomy knowledge through case application in their clinical year. This really help students prior to their surgical rotations to just have a fresh look at the anatomy again. Our anatomist is part of our PA faculty and has extensive experience in teaching anatomy. and some local institutions within the city, such as Temple and the University of Pennsylvania. So we're very fortunate to have his expertise. We recruited the assistance of a retired surgeon to assist students in lab and a practicing radiologist who serves to correlate those diagnostic radiologic studies directly to the anatomical structures that students are learning in anatomy class in lab.

Our third and final strength, I think, is the support that we are able to provide students because we have a low student to faculty ratio. We certainly know PA school is challenging no matter where you go, and students really do make a significant commitment when they begin their training, in financial resources, in time, and even the emotional commitment that they have to make to such an intensive program. At Salus, I feel that we are in this with the students. We know our students, and there is a sense of family feel in our department. With a small class size of 50 students, they benefit from the low student to faculty ratio.

Our program is primarily competency-based medical education. And we have a well-defined system in place to track student performance, identify those students that might be struggling and giving them the support they need to ensure their success. The program even has a dedicated faculty position. It's called the Director of Educational Competency and Strategic Innovation, whose primary responsibility is to help each student learner to achieve their academic goals. This is a very unique position, and I am not aware of any other PA program that has such a position to support and foster learning in our students.

Amie reported that we had received a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistant Capital Program or RACP. And we're really grateful for that grant. It certainly shows us and speaks to the Commonwealth's recognition that competent healthcare providers are essential. And in these times, it's more than ever. So we are really appreciative of the fact that they recognize physician assistants as being critical to health promotion and disease prevention. And we're also grateful to the university for matching that funding, because they are taking a great investment that benefits our students.

For more information about the PA program and to keep up to date on renovations, visit