Rocky Mountain College
It took a commitment of financial, faculty, student and administrative resources, but when Rocky Mountain College chose to resurrect rather than shut down its Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program several years ago, it did it wholeheartedly.
That commitment paid off this year when the program’s accreditation was renewed for five years by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education.
The RMC program, established in 1998, has graduated more than 200 physician assistants. The two-year master’s program averages 25-30 graduates each year, many going to work in rural and under-served areas where there is a critical need for professional caregivers.
Much of the credit for the success of the program goes to Dr. Robert Wilmouth, a former heart and lung surgeon, who took over direction of the program in December 2008. With more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, Wilmouth had a lifetime of medical knowledge and a yearning to teach. Wilmouth is the only cardio-thoracic and vascular surgeon in the country to lead a physician assistant program.
“Bob Wilmouth was the key to turning this program around. He has simply done a phenomenal job,” according to RMC President Michael Mace.
The always energetic but modest Wilmouth deflects that praise.
“Actually President Mace and Anthony Piltz (RMC academic vice president and provost) were more instrumental than I was. They had to make the decision that, not only was the program worth saving, but resources would be allocated to make that happen,” Wilmouth said.
Moreover “the real champions were the students,” Wilmouth quickly adds. “They had to make a commitment to stick it out with us. We promised they’d graduate from a topnotch program, but saying that and making it happen are different things,” he said.
The RMC Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program’s accreditation is critical since it enables graduates to sit for the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination) and become licensed to practice. The PANCE is the entry-level exam physician assistant must pass to become nationally certified.
Testimony to how well RMC’s program is performing is indicated by how well its graduates do on those exams. For the past two years and four of the last five years, 100 percent of RMC’s students have passed the PANCE on the first testing, averaging 92 percent.
Wilmouth measures the program’s success in other ways, too. More RMC graduates are entering the program, which indicates the RMC undergraduate program is preparing better students who qualify for admission to the MPAS program.
“We have had nine students from Rocky over the past couple years in the program, which is terrific. It shows there is a potential for growth within our own college,” he noted.
Another extraordinary aspect of the RMC program is that it stresses patient safety more than any other program in the United States.
“We’re the only program in the country with patient safety course built into our curriculum that is a requirement to graduate,” he said.
Wilmouth put together a faculty team that includes a former general surgeon, cardiologist, OB-GYN surgeon, oncologist and three certified physician assistants with more than 30 years clinical experience.
“I would put this program up against any in the world because of the students we have and the faculty that is in place,” Wilmouth said.
Even with the program’s success, there is more to be done, Wilmouth said.
‘We can always get better. When patient care and safety are involved, there is never ‘good enough,’” he said. “This program always has its sights set higher.”