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CMU launches physician assistant program with strong community service orientation

On her first day of class, Tiffany Petersen, a graduate student in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), visited the Salvation Army with her classmates.

“We stocked shelves and sorted clothing,” said Petersen. “CMU wants us to be invested and involved in the local community, and we definitely are.”

Community service is an important underpinning of physician assistant education and training at Colorado Mesa University.

According to MPAS Program Director and Assistant Professor Amy Bronson, EdD, the mission of CMU’s physician assistant (PA) program is to improve health care in western Colorado, while training PAs who will become service-minded leaders within their communities.

“We identified health care access as a huge need in the 14 counties that surround CMU,” Bronson said. “And we wanted to create a program that would meet both strategic university needs as well as these community needs.”

Provisional accreditation status for the PA program was approved in September 2018 and the Higher Learning Commission final approval came in December 2018. In January 2019, the MPAS program began with 16 students chosen from more than 800 applicants.

To be admitted, applicants needed to show a high undergraduate GPA, previous experience in health care and a commitment to community service. On average, admitted students had a GPA of 3.61, 7,000 hours of health care experience and 600 hours of community service.

Bronson further explained that while applications were received from across the U.S., priority was given to students with a connection to western Colorado.

“Statistically, those students who have roots here are those who will graduate and serve our community,” said Bronson.

In addition to studying to become a PA, Tiffany Petersen is president of the CMU MPAS Student Society. Originally from California, she came to CMU to play volleyball and remained in Grand Junction after graduating in 2015. She worked at STRIVE, a local nonprofit, and as a scribe, medical assistant and physical therapy aide in a large medical group.

While she had “always” planned on medical school, she decided to become a physician assistant after shadowing a neurological PA at St. Mary’s Hospital.

“I fell in love with what being a PA is all about,” Petersen said.

“PAs have a role in patient care, including follow-up and long-term care that doctors don’t often have the time to take on. PAs can play a role in a clinic or in the operating room. They can easily go all over the place and switch specialties. Doctors aren’t always able to do that.”

Colorado Mesa University’s MPAS curriculum educates students across the spectrum of health care specialties.

A rigorous 27-month program, PA school is full-time and year-round. The first 15 months are spent in the classroom, which is similar to medical school. The final 12 months are devoted to rotations, including family medicine, mental health, internal medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, surgery and emergency medicine.

“We are able to learn all aspects of medicine and then decide where we want to go,” said Petersen.
In February, CMU received a $50,000 grant from Caring for Colorado Foundation to purchase hands-on training equipment for the PA program. The equipment includes task trainers, mannequins and simulators, all of which teach students clinical skills.

“We commend Colorado Mesa University for its recognition of the continuing need for trained health care professionals in the region,” said Caring for Colorado President and CEO Chris J. Wiant, PhD, when announcing the grant.

Petersen is also appreciative of CMU’s leadership. “The MPAS program puts CMU on the map for producing capable and caring health care providers. Dr. Bronson is an amazing leader and this program has the potential to create compassionate and driven leaders. Grand Junction will benefit so much.” •

Editor’s Note: The MPAS program is in the Department of Kinesiology, which is planning to launch additional advanced health care degrees including Master of Science in Athletic Training in 2019 and Doctor of Occupational Therapy in 2021. 

Alumna one of the first physician assistants to own and operate medical clinic

alumna erica herrera-klebold outside of her practice Work Partners Occupational.
Alumna Erica Herrera-Klebold

When Erica Herrera-Klebold graduated from Mesa in 1999, she had two goals: to become a physician assistant (PA) and to live near her family in Grand Junction.

What she didn’t know then, was that in her pursuit of these goals she’d become one of the first, if not the first, PA in Colorado to own and operate a medical clinic.

Until July 2010, Colorado PAs were required to work under physicians and couldn’t own medical practices. Unaware of this prohibition, when the physician for whom Herrera-Klebold had worked since 2006 moved on, she saw an opportunity.

“I asked myself, ‘why can’t I own this clinic?’” Herrera-Klebold said. When attorneys told her she couldn’t unless pending state legislation was enacted, she decided to go ahead and “bank on the law changing.”

Two months after the law changed, Herrera-Klebold and her husband and business partner, Mason Klebold, purchased Work Partners Occupational Health.

Work Partners Occupational Health treats work place injuries, 90% of which are muscular and skeletal, which are Herrera-Klebold’s preferred emphases.

Work Partners has 14 employees, including five CMU graduates. Supporting CMU and working with students via internships, clinical rotations and classroom training are priorities for Herrera-Klebold.

As she puts it, “I absolutely want to be involved with CMU in any way I can.” •

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Written by Kristen Lummis