Preparing Students for Healthcare Careers of Tomorrow

From the boardroom to the classroom, HPU’s values-based education has prepared thousands of graduates to lead in relevant fields. The next 90 years will prepare future leaders for the health care careers of tomorrow, meeting the growing demands for practitioners around the world.

New faculty, facilities and curriculum are being put into place now for physician assistant, pharmacy and physical therapy programs, all slated to launch in phases, beginning with PA studies 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these fields will grow up to 39 percent in the next 10 years, well beyond the average rate of job growth for other professions.

Increase in demand for healthcare providers:

Physical therapists – 39% increase

Physician Assistants – 30% increase

Pharmacists – 25% increase

Average starting salaries:

Physical therapists – $76,310 per year

Physician Assistant – $86,410 per year

Pharmacists – $111,570 per year

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

These programs will put HPU students at the helm of medical research and patient care as graduates enter a world with a high demand for healthcare providers who can tackle challenges in a changing landscape. They’ll treat individuals across the world as they enhance our quality of life. It’s a journey that all starts on this campus.

The Growing Demand for PAs

14297262321_2ff5b1e621_kHPU’s School of Health Sciences, which already houses undergraduate programs in exercise science and athletic training, will launch a new Physician Assistant Studies program in 2015. The program will equip students to work in a field where 78 percent of graduates have multiple job offers, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

The Department of Physician Assistant Studies is currently next to the Department of Physical Therapy and its Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab. The two departments will move to the $80 million, state-of-the-art School of Health Sciences building upon completion in 2017.

Two Medical Simulation Labs in the current PA facility feature leading technology. This includes four high-fidelity, wireless mannequins, one of which gives birth to a simulated baby. Stan, a male mannequin that appeared in a Grey’s Anatomy episode, can talk, bleed, cry, convulse and respond physiologically to almost 70 intravenous and inhaled medications. Faculty in an adjacent control room can alter Stan’s physical responses to students’ actions, causing him to have increased heart rate, change in temperature, allergic reactions and much more.

Dr. Linda Sekhon, founding chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, says that incorporating high fidelity mannequins into the classroom allows students to practice providing clinical care to a patient without risk.

“PA students need to learn in an environment where they can develop the metacognitive skills required to practice medicine before they enter the workforce,” says Sekhon. “This type of medical simulation prepares our graduates for careers that are not only in demand, but crucial to society.”

In addition to the Medical Simulation Labs, the department includes three patient exam rooms for working with live patients, rooms to facilitate problem-based learning, and a clinical skills lab for demonstration and practice of medical techniques such as suturing.

Sekhon says the facility rivals top PA spaces around the country, as well as the outstanding faculty who are committed to ensuring student success. Hailing from prestigious PA programs at Duquesne University, the University of New Mexico, Wake Forest University, Indiana University and others, HPU’s faculty have been recognized for their excellence in teaching as well as their expertise in health care. Their experience in medical specialties includes rheumatology, pediatrics, orthopedics, urology and family medicine. As the program grows, they will represent hundreds of years of combined experience.

“As one of the largest employers of physician assistants in the Piedmont Triad, Cornerstone Health Care is thrilled to be working closely with Dr. Sekhon and the High Point University PA program staff,” says Dr. John Walker, COO of Cornerstone Health Care in High Point and a member of the PA program’s advisory board. “We believe that the quality of education they will receive at HPU will be outstanding, and look forward to hiring many of them as we continue to move to a health care delivery model that stresses improvements in quality, reduction in cost, and an unparalleled patient experience.”

Clinical Sites in Close Proximity

High Point University is located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina – a hub of medical innovation. Featuring renowned hospitals and medical systems, it is a prime location for HPU’s new health science and pharmacy programs.

Faculty in these programs are building relationships with the robust population of physicians and health care providers surrounding the university to ensure students have access to clinical rotation sites and experiential learning opportunities in close proximity to their campus.

For the physician assistant studies program, which will welcome its first cohort in 2015, 55 percent of clinical sites are within 5 miles of campus, while 80 percent of clinical sites are within 20 miles.

“High Point University is focused on holistic education, experiential learning and values-based living, which compliments physician assistant education,” says Sekhon. “We have seen an outpouring of support from the local medical community as we build our program.”

Whether students major in physician assistant, physical therapy or pharmacy studies, they will have access to leading medical facilities and mentors in their community as well as on campus.

Pharmacy Focused on Patient Care

Soon, students of High Point University’s proposed School of Pharmacy will be getting hands-on experience that prepares them to care for and communicate with patients on a daily basis. Dr. Ronald Ragan, dean of the School of Pharmacy, who previously developed new classroom and experiential opportunities at the highly respected University of Kansas School of Pharmacy, is leading the development of HPU’s new school. He has more than 25 years of experience as a community and hospital pharmacist and educator and holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology.

Ragan and newly appointed faculty have developed a curriculum for the 6-year program, which is currently pending accreditation by ACPE, the accrediting body for professional pharmacy programs. He notes that it is a critical time in the field as pharmacy is evolving quickly, presenting new opportunities and new challenges.

“Health care is changing from providers who work in silos to providers who work together in a team-based approach,” says Ragan. “We will demonstrate collaboration in our curriculum, classrooms and clinical sites.”

By the time they graduate, HPU pharmacy students will be well prepared for the workforce. They will go through a traditional two-year pre-pharmacy program, benefiting from the liberal arts education High Point University provides. Then they begin a four-year professional program, the final year of which is spent in the field going through a series of nine, one-month clinical experiences.

“The student becomes a pharmacist supervised by a clinician at the site,” says Ragan. “We don’t want them to be a passive observer. We are working hard to build relationships with quality sites that have clinicians who enjoy teaching and helping young professionals learn how to provide care.”

Faculty are also building a research department for the school that will serve as a core component of the curriculum. The research will focus on discovering new molecules and medications, as well as better ways to treat people with existing medications.

“Our research department will provide teaching opportunities for students, but the research conducted there will also have an impact on the drug therapy options that exist in our health care system.”

Physical Therapists Helping ‘Active Agers’

8232626831_3deb516bde_zPhysical therapists have seen the passion that aging baby boomers have for staying active. No longer do individuals retire to a rocking chair. Today, they retire to a life of physical activity and adventure.

Helping those individuals stay mobile and accomplish their dreams is crucial as the graying population of America increases. Physical therapists accomplish this by enhancing athletic performance, rehabilitating injuries, and researching injury prevention techniques to prevent problems before they begin. In short, physical therapists are experts in restoring, maintaining and improving function.

“There is a definite need for health care that addresses these issues in every state and in countries around the world,” says Erb.

Dr. Eric Hegedus, founding chair of the department who hails from Duke University, leads the PT doctoral program development – the third doctoral program in HPU’s history – scheduled to accept its first cohort in 2017. He’s put together two impactful, and possibly most important, pieces of the program: faculty with distinguished credentials and technology that’s second to none.

The esteemed professors come to HPU from institutions including Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Otago in New Zealand. They have achieved major milestones in their careers, such as publishing hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles, some of which were co-authored by current students, on topics ranging from shoulder pain, hip damage, ACL tear/injury prevention, balance and much more.

They remain practicing physicians who see patients in the community while also mentoring undergraduates in research and conference presentations. Their work is widely published and relevant to individuals of every demographic.

“I am fortunate to lead a group of colleagues who are brilliant yet humble, individually successful yet team-oriented, and dedicated yet balanced,” says Hegedus. “It would seem our goal in life is to lift others up.”

Pro Athletes to Weekend Warriors

DSC_5118A combination of renowned faculty and innovative technology make HPU’s Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab one of the most unique labs in the country, so much so that it’s attracting professional athletes like NFL players Corvey Irvin of the Detroit Lions and William Hayes of the St. Louis Rams.

Irvin discovered the HPU lab through his personal trainer while undergoing rehabilitation for a high ankle sprain. He had just been released by the Chicago Bears, but he refused to let the setback end his career.

He sought the expertise of Dr. Alexis Wright, assistant professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Eric Hegedus, chair of the department of physical therapy. Guided by their knowledge, Irvin recovered and became stronger. The professors used an innovative rehabilitation strategy along with specialized equipment, such as the anti-gravity treadmill. Only found in the world’s most state-of-the-art facilities, the treadmill allowed Irvin to run at a small percentage of his body weight without any pain.

Weeks later, the hard work performed in the lab paid off on the field as Irvin signed with the Dallas Cowboys. In 2014, he joined the Detroit Lions and now serves as their defensive tackle.

This is one example of the ground-breaking work faculty in the lab and their undergraduate majors are now performing. From NFL players to weekend warriors, they’re advancing the way athletes and all individuals stay active longer.

They’ve welcomed other professional athletes to the lab such as Hayes, as well as many local athletes. Two students worked with Hegedus to host a women’s golf study in the lab for female golfers in the community. The study focused on two types of strength training workouts to determine which most effectively improved their game. Hegedus and the students, senior Kelly Hardesty and recent graduate Andrew Fisher, are analyzing the final results for publication, but they already know both groups of women improved bone mass and decreased body fat in the process – a win for all involved.

“Why is this lab significant? Because it will change lives,” says Dr. Daniel Erb, dean of the School of Health Sciences. “It already has improved performance of athletes here and in the community and worked to decrease injuries. And it won’t just impact those we call athletes. Research here will be translated to people outside of athletics to improve their lives, too.”

Connecting, Collaborating and Communicating

Students studying health sciences or pharmacy at HPU won’t just be learning how to provide care. They’ll learn how to provide patient-centered care, an approach that requires a team of healthcare providers to work in unison to provide the most effective treatment.

When the physician assistant makes a diagnosis at your doctor’s office, they write a prescription that’s transferred to your pharmacist. Both provide instructions for your treatment.

In some cases, you’ll meet other providers along the way such as physical therapists, creating a complex regimen. The key to success is their ability to communicate and work together as your healthcare team.

“In our curriculum, physical therapists, physician assistants and pharmacists take classes together so they have an understanding of each other’s scope of practice,” says Erb. “Inter-professional education and inter-collaborative medicine are core components of our curriculum.”

In the real world, health care providers don’t practice in silos. They interact daily, and their patient’s wellbeing depends on their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. The curriculum and facilities of HPU’s programs are intentionally designed to reflect the collaborative working environments of the future. Physician assistant, pharmacy and physical therapy students will participate in real-world scenarios in their studies before beginning clinical assignments at health care organizations, where they’ll put their practice into motion.

By the time they graduate, problem-solving and working across disciplines will have become second nature, along with improving the lives of their patients.

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