March 20, 2020
Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana announced last month that they are in the final stages of launching their own Doctor of Medical Science program for practicing physician assistants.
The latest addition to the DMS/DMSc family, Rocky Mountain College joins at least four other universities in offering the new degree. Provost and Academic Vice President, Stephen Germic said: “The proposed Doctor of Medical Sciences program elevates our already strong physician assistant studies program and, with its focus on rural health, better positions us to serve the needs of regional communities.”
A Troubled Past
Graduating their first class in 1998, the only PA program in Montana and Wyoming was placed on probation by the ARC-PA in 2002 finding that Rocky “needed to strengthen the administration of the program, give students more access to the library, provide a better conference room and improve seating, lighting and heating in classrooms.”
The Rocky PA program is well supported by the community with around 200 Billings physicians, PAs, NPs helping to train the new clinicians. The class of 2004 was the last class to receive bachelor’s degrees–students entering after 2005 receive a master’s.
Your PA Can
According to the Billing’s Gazette, most graduates from RMC’s PA program stay and practice in the area, which is critical given the rural nature of Montana and that “physician assistants can provide about 90 percent of the services offered by medical doctors at as little as 50 percent of the cost.”
Jerry Dernbach, who sat on the college’s National Advisory Council said, “If we’re going to fight the cost of medical care, this is going to catch on across the U.S. They cost less than a medical doctor, but they basically do the same work.”
The Doctor of Medical Science
Now with the Doctor of Medical Science degree to soon become another option, not only for Montana PAs but those across the country, those same PAs will still cost less than a medical doctor but will now be more capable and confident in doing even more for their patients and stepping into more leadership and academic positions.
The founding director of the fledgling Doctor of Medical Science program, Dr. Heather Heggem, DMSc, PA-C states, “Completing our new 12-month Doctor of Medical Sciences program will improve their knowledge base, clinical skills, and communication with patients and colleagues. It also allows them to potentially move into leadership roles in clinical medicine and academics.”
Further supporting RMC’s mission of meeting the needs of rural and underserved communities, an RMC news brief states that the new DMSc program is designed for working professionals and will be offered online. It is only open to qualified, credentialed PAs. No word on residency requirements, however.
The DMSc program plans to open 24 slots pending accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.