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University looks into physician assistant program, hires Hixon

Date: 4/10/2015

WESTFIELD – Westfield State University has taken a step forward in developing its physician assistant program. The university has hired Jennifer Hixon, D.H.Sc., PA-C, to set up the two-year graduate program.

Hixon developed the Bay Path University physician assistant program and served as its first program director. She has also worked as the dean of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences School of Physician Assistant Studies and as director for Springfield College’s program. She still practices in the community one day a week.

While the program at Westfield State is still in the beginning phases, if it is approved and accredited, it will be the first public physician’s assistant program in New England. Hixon said, though there is no current program at a public college or university, not many people realize that.

“If everyone keeps saying that [they did not know there was no public program], then we should be doing it, shouldn’t we?” Hixon said.

The development of such a program has been a long-term goal for Hixon, who said it is crucial for the region.

“It has always been in my radar, through my whole academic career, that it would be incredibly beneficial to have a public physician assistant program in Massachusetts. Actually, it’s probably our duty,” she said. “Really part of my mission is to create an affordable option for Massachusetts and area students that want to become a physician assistant.”

Hixon has been working on setting up partnerships and collaborations with local hospitals and private practices as the first phase of development. She said that she would like to see organizations in the community get involved in the program.

Aside from the opportunity for organizations to participate, Hixon said this public program would allow students in the area a chance to follow a path they might not be able to pursue at a private school.

“I think it’s providing an opportunity for a diverse group of students and I think it’s the responsibility of the public institutions to offer this to their students across the state and in New England. There’s not other program like this, none,” she said.

Hixon worked as the physician assistant of sports medicine and orthopedic surgery for the United States Olympic Field Hockey team in 1988, and though she said seeing the world has changed her life, her work continues to do so on a daily basis.

By giving students in the Greater Springfield area a chance to attend a state university to pursue this path, the community, overall, will benefit, she said.

“It not only changes the physician assistant’s life but also the community because this is a high paying occupation, so when a physician assistant enters a community, they buy a house, they go out to dinner, they can really contribute in a way that’s not workforce development but community development,” Hixon said.

The physician assistant program must be approved by the Department of Higher Education and accepted by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant Inc. (ARC-PA), and if it were approved, would be housed in the new Science Center. Hixon said that she is confident the program will come to fruition.

She even has a “tagline” in mind.

“’The public serving the public,’ and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here at Westfield,” she said.