By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director
In the summer of 1996, the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University and St. Claire Regional Medical Center entered into an agreement to create the UK Physician Assistant Extension Program at Morehead.
The goal? To address the shortage of medical providers, especially those in the rural Appalachian region.
“The mission was established to recruit students from this region into the PA program,” said Scott Lephart, PhD, and Dean of UK’s College of Health Sciences. “And to encourage the graduates that trained in this region to stay in this region to become providers of the citizens.”
That was 25 years ago, and on Thursday, luminaries, faculty, staff and alumni from the program gathered to celebrate the milestone.
“It’s been an extraordinary history,” Lephart told the crowd Thursday night. “It has thrived, and it has sustained over this 25-year period.”
Over those years, the program has trained, on average, 16 Physician Assistant graduates, many of whom remained in the region.
Lephart noted the program is still striving to fulfill its mission, as the area needs even more healthcare assistance. “We need this critical pipeline more than ever,” he said. “We could not be happier with these partnerships we have.”
Dr. Wayne Miller, Dean of the College of Science at Morehead State, said: “This is a showcase — and we use it as a showcase, that we are partnering with a corporate institution, the hospital; we are partnering with a rival institution, another university; and we dropped all that rivalry to work together.”
“I have been blown away by the caliber of the students,” said Donald H, Lloyd II, president and CEO of St. Claire HealthCare. “For 25 years, this program’s presence and its influence on care is evident throughout eastern Kentucky” as well as the entire state. “The future, to me,” he continued, “is as equally promising as the past.”
Eight eastern Kentucky residents were the first students to enroll in the program in 1996.
Now, 10 dedicated faculty members, two based at Morehead State University, and eight based in Lexington, provide instruction, and each year, 40 students are admitted to the Lexington campus, with 16 admitted to the Morehead State site.
“One of my favorite things about this role is I get to say thank you a lot,” said Shelley Irving, MSPAS, PA-C, 2008 alum of the UK PA program, and now, site director for the Morehead campus. “There’s no place like Morehead.”
She went on to thank that first class, and present special pictures to each of the members. Then, they posed to recreate a picture they’d taken in 1996.
“The future is so bright,” Irving said. “As we think about the future — this dream of a well Kentucky where every person is valued and cared for so that they can dream their dreams — we truly want to re-engage, engage, connect and build relationships with you. We’re stronger together as we work toward that dream of a well Kentucky.”
In the end, Irving said she would not say goodbye to the crowd. Because, she said, it wasn’t a goodbye at all. It was a promise to remain connected, to come visit.
“Come on in, sit a spell,” she said. “And we’ll see you again real soon.”