Inaugural PA Program Director: First Steps

Updated: May 19, 2020

You’ve been chosen to be the inaugural program director for a new PA program. This is your chance to move up from a faculty role to a leadership role, perhaps for the first time. It’s been a dream of yours to make a mark on a new program and positively impact generations of PA students. You’ve received the congratulatory letters and plenty of pats on the back. And now you wonder, what are my first steps?


In my own decades-long career as a PA educator, the most challenging yet rewarding experience has been working as an inaugural PA program director. If you’re nervous, anxious, or uncertain, you’re feeling exactly as you should in this situation. Being the architect of a new program is simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. This may be one of the greatest challenges of your career, so let’s look at the first actions you should take as an inaugural PA program director.



Develop a timeline

Before anything else, develop a timeline. Write down a detailed list of specific tasks that must be achieved between now and the onsite visit from the ARC-PA. Start at the end, planning in reverse based on the dates for submission of your application. If you know where you need to go, you can start planning how to get there.

This timeline will serve as a beneficial benchmark to begin recruiting your future team. Remember to consult the 5thEdition Standards to ensure you are wisely and proactively planning. As a PA program director, you’ll be managing multiple projects and will need to prioritize the myriad of tasks to be completed, so this timeline is vital.


Example timeline for a provisional PA program


Begin filling key positions

Your first action plan is to hire a medical director. According to the 5th Edition Standards of the ARC-PA, both the program director and the medical director need to be in place fifteen months before the ARC-PA onsite visit. The medical director can serve as an ambassador within the regional communities, which will facilitate the most monumental task ahead of you: developing clinical sites and slots for the inaugural class.


Besides the program and medical directors’ requirement to be in place, note the requirements for principal faculty and support staff: “Based on the qualifications outlined in the Standards, the program must have… 2.0 FTE PA-C principal faculty and 1.0 FTE support staff hired by the institution on a permanent basis at least 9 months prior to the date of the scheduled site visit” (ARC-PA, 5th Edition Standards).



Develop an advisory committee

It is essential to develop an advisory committee early in the process. This committee will be represented at the first ARC-PA onsite visit. If you’re not sure who should be on the advisory committee, Massey & Martin, LLC recommends reaching out to the chief medical officers in the region who can best facilitate clinical site development. Local and regional government officials may also be good candidates. Include representation from the institution on the committee as well; professors from other health professions can be very helpful.


Additionally, PA representation is essential. Reach out to practicing PAs in your region—both those who show interest and those who may be skeptical. The skeptical PAs may in fact be the best individuals for thinking outside of the box.


The advisory committee will act as your sounding board. Though they are not driving the process, they can provide valuable advice about the local regional environment, which will be instrumental for you moving forward.



Get familiarized with institutional policies and procedures

It is imperative to ingratiate yourself with the institutional policies and procedures as soon as possible. Understanding hiring practices will be paramount while navigating the position approval process and when posting for future positions. Knowing the institutional process will also be essential as you plan for internal approval of the curriculum.


Introduce yourself to key persons

In fact, developing the admissions process is also often done in concert with the institution’s admissions department. This means acting as the ambassador, which is necessary to become the public face of the PA program. Introduce yourself to all the department heads, administrators, faculty Senate, and other key players. Develop your interpersonal skills; they will be a true asset. Continue to foster these relationships because they will pay dividends during the program development process; you will need allies during this intricate, complex journey.


As you develop your PA program, keep in mind you’ll be managing several parallel processes, including curriculum development, the ARC-PA application completion, facility development, and clinical site development. These will be continuous action items for you to work on daily, which we will examine in more detail in Part 2: Continuous Action Items.

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