Xavier University and Ochsner Health System Launch New Physician Assistant Program

NEW ORLEANS – Xavier University of Louisiana and Ochsner Health System teamed up to launch a new Physician Assistant (PA) Program* for the inaugural class matriculating in January 2020. The 28-month, full-time graduate program, which leads to a master’s degree in health sciences, is comprised of three semesters of classroom instruction followed by 16 months of clinical training within the Ochsner Health System. The announcement was made in a press release.

Commonly known as a PA, a physician assistant is a licensed and trained healthcare professional trained in general medicine who works under the supervision of a physician. The American Academy of PAs estimates there are more than 123,000 PAs in the United States today and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physician assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026. Currently, Ochsner has 183 Physician Assistants working across its health system.

“We have greatly expanded our program offerings over the past three years to meet the evolving needs of students to be globally competitive and prepare for successful careers in the current markets,”  said Dr. Anne McCall, provost of Xavier University of Louisiana. “The commitment to establish the new program reflects our mission at Xavier University to prepare students to be servant-leaders who impact transformative change for a more just and humane society.”

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Following three semesters of classroom instruction, the PA students will complete approximately 2,000 hours of hands-on clinical experience through 11 rotations at various Ochsner facilities. Students will work and study with healthcare professionals across a variety of specialties, including Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, General Surgery, Emergency Medicine, Behavioral Health and Women’s Health. 

“Ochsner has a long history of excellence in medical education. PA students will train with University of Queensland Ochsner Clinical School Medical Students in our integrated health care system. The PA program with Xavier demonstrates our continued commitment to training the next generation of healthcare providers to meet the health care needs of the diverse communities we serve,” said Leonardo Seoane, M.D., chief academic officer, Ochsner Health System.

Varsha Castro Gusman has been appointed as director of the program. She will serve also as clinical assistant professor of professional programs in the Physician Assistant Department. As the founding director, she will oversee the degree approval process, plan and develop accredited curriculum and serve as a classroom instructor, mentor and advisor to students. A Xavier University alumna, Gusman earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s degree in the physician assistant program at Our Lady of the Lake College. Gusman served as the Lead Physician Assistant for the Neuro Critical Care Unit while at Ochsner for the last 5 years.

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“The future of the healthcare system is projected to be collaborative and diverse, with many different professions working at their highest levels to care for patient needs,” said Gusman. “The physician assistant program at Xavier University has the potential to have great impact on the health of our communities. Graduates will acquire the knowledge and skills needed to advocate for patients, reduce disparities in access to health care, recognize and treat disorders and advance prevention of chronic disease.”

The new PA program is the next evolution in a long-standing relationship, which dates back to the early 1980s when Ochsner and Xavier’s College of Pharmacy established an affiliation agreement partnership to provide educational experiences to pharmacy students. Through this partnership, Ochsner has provided clinical training for an average of 80 Xavier pharmacy students each year.


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