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Trine, Lutheran to partner in physician assistant program

– Fort Wayne soon could be known as much for health care programs as it is for churches and restaurants.

Trine University on Tuesday announced plans to partner with Lutheran Hospital to develop a physician assistant program.

The news comes just two months after Trine unveiled plans to partner with Parkview Health on a new doctor of physical therapy program at Parkview Randallia.

The Angola university’s School of Health Sciences, which was launched last year, plans to offer the master-level program beginning January 2017.

Physician assistants often treat minor injuries and counsel patients with chronic conditions. Trine’s program will allow students to specialize in orthopedics, cardiology, trauma and emergency.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 38 percent job growth for physician assistants through 2022, a rate it describes as “much faster than average.”

Median pay for a physician assistant is $90,930 a year, according to federal data.

“There’s just this skyrocketing need for physician services,” said Max Baumgartner, dean of Trine’s School of Health Sciences.

The demand is being driven by aging baby boomers, who need help managing chronic illnesses, and the newly insured, who received coverage since the launch of the Affordable Care Act, he said.

Brian Bauer, CEO of Lutheran Health Network and Lutheran Hospital, has been in discussions with Trine about the proposed program for months. Details are still being worked out.

“Our physicians will be very involved structuring the curriculum and determining how our campus facilities will be best utilized,” Bauer said in a statement. “We are honored that Trine has placed such faith in our ability to help train its postgraduate students.”

Baumgartner said the first steps will be to work through the accreditation process and hire a director.

Trine officials have discussed possible spaces the program might use, including on Lutheran Health’s Dupont Road campus, Baumgartner said. But the location hasn’t been settled.

The university will seek accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.

The independent, Georgia-based organization has already accredited three physician assistant programs in Indiana and has given provisional accreditation to a fourth.

The University of Saint Francis, which was first accredited in 1997, is the closest competing program. The rest are in central or southern Indiana.

The local university received more than 500 applications for admission to the physician assistant program last year, spokeswoman Trois Hart said. But the university can accept only as many as it can find clinical placements for. That has limited the Saint Francis program’s annual enrollment to 25 – just 1 of every 20 applicants in 2013, she said.

Baumgartner said Trine’s plan is to launch its program with 30 students per class. The students move through the two-year program as one group. He expects some classes could send them to the gross anatomy lab established on the Carew Street campus for the physical therapy doctoral program.

Trine officials didn’t necessarily set out to play catch-up by creating a partnership with Lutheran to balance the deal already struck with rival health care network Parkview, Baumgartner said.

But he’s kind of glad it worked out this way. Trine relies on both systems to allow students to get on-the-job experience.

“It is kind of touchy,” he said. “You don’t want to offend anyone.”