MSU-Meridian’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program works toward accreditation, anticipates first students in January

Tara Milligan, assistant clinical professor with MSU-Meridian’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, demonstrates the Student Auscultation Model (SAM), which students can use to listen to normal and abnormal heart and lung sounds for cardiology STARKVILLE, Miss.—A new Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree program at Mississippi State University-Meridian is on track toward accreditation, and MSU leaders anticipate the first PA students will enroll in January 2020.

MSU will be the state’s only public institution to offer a PA studies master’s degree. PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals who practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. They perform a broad range of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventative and health maintenance services. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statics projects the occupational outlook for PAs will increase by 37 percent through 2026.

The program’s launch at the Riley Campus in downtown Meridian is pending achievement of Accreditation-Provisional status at the September meeting of the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, or ARC-PA. The university will be notified regarding its application for Accreditation-Provisional this fall. The program will not commence in the event Accreditation-Provisional is not granted.

“We’re excited to launch a program aimed at meeting critical healthcare needs of our state,” said Terry Dale Cruse, Ph.D., MSU-Meridian administrative director and head of campus. “I’m extremely grateful for the support of our local medical centers, physicians, excellent faculty, and university leadership through this intensive process.”

Debra Munsell, Ph.D., MSU associate professor and program director, said two upcoming information sessions are scheduled this summer for those with an active application in progress, as well as anyone considering the PA application process for next year. These sessions are May 24 at 1:30 p.m. and June 14 at 4:30 p.m. in the Bulldog Shop at the Riley Campus. Additional general information sessions will be offered this fall at MSU-Meridian and on the Starkville Campus.

Applications for the rigorous 24-month program are now being accepted through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants, known as CASPA. The application period for MSU-Meridian’s program is open through August 1, and all prospective PA students must apply for any program in the U.S. through CASPA.

“For anyone who is eligible and interested in applying during this cycle, time is of the essence,” Munsell said.

MSU-Meridian conducted several years of needs assessment before initiating the program, which has a mission “to prepare PAs to practice and promote empathetic, primary care-focused medicine that serves the culturally diverse state of Mississippi.”

After the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning approved MSU-Meridian’s proposal to plan the new degree program in 2017, Munsell joined the university later that year to lead the program implementation. She previously led the successful launch of the PA program at LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans, and her efforts as LSU’s inaugural program director resulted in full accreditation, as well as a 100 percent pass rate on the exit exam for the first three cohorts of graduates. Munsell has served on many national and statewide committees focused on physician assistants and spent over a decade as a physician assistant faculty member in other states. She has more than 30 years of related clinical experience. The Port Arthur, Texas, native holds degrees from Stephen F. Austin State University, the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nova Southeastern University.

At MSU-Meridian, Munsell has developed a comprehensive self-study detailing plans for the new program and its curriculum. Also, program faculty hosted a recent ARC-PA site visit, with the review by the ARC-PA board scheduled this fall.

Munsell said the university has assembled a team of enthusiastic, knowledgeable faculty to guide the developing program. These include:

—George White, Ph.D., associate program director, leads the acquisition of clinical training sites across the state. With years of experience as a clinically practicing PA, he has been a professor for several PA programs, is the founding director of the University of South Alabama PA Program in Mobile, and is the recipient of many honors, including the 1997 American Academy of PAs Outstanding Physician Assistant of the Year award.

—Deborah Washburn, PA-C, clinical coordinator and assistant clinical professor, will coordinate the clinical year curriculum. An MSU alumna, she has clinical experience in general surgery and as a hospitalist.

—Celeste Bear, PA-C, assistant clinical professor, will direct the program’s clinical assessment portion. She has over 10 years of experience as a clinically practicing PA and more than five years’ experience as an assistant professor in physician assistant studies.

—Tara Milligan, PA-C, assistant clinical professor, will coordinate clinical laboratory science instruction and participate in didactic and clinical instruction. Her clinical experience includes medical laboratory technology, treating patients with sleep disorders and geriatric medicine.

Munsell said the program is fortunate to have J. Lee Valentine, D.O., as its medical director. Dr. Valentine has served the citizens of east Mississippi as a family physician since 1992. The founding director of the East Central HealthNet Rural Family Medicine Residency Program in Meridian, he served as chair of the Department of Family Practice at the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“The faculty have developed a rigorous curriculum with the mission of increasing access to healthcare for Mississippians. The curriculum is delivered in state-of-the-art facilities, using team-based learning techniques, traditional lectures, high fidelity simulators and early involvement in clinical experiences,” Munsell said.

For more on MSU-Meridian’s PA program, as well as on information sessions and admissions, visit or email

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Master of Physician Assistant Studies

Mississippi State University-Meridian has applied for Accreditation - Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Mississippi State University-Meridian anticipates matriculating its first class in January 2020, pending achievement of Accreditation - Provisional status at the September 2019 ARC-PA meeting.
Accreditation - Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards or when a program holding accreditation-provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students.
The program will not commence in the event Accreditation-Provisional is not granted.
For more information on the developing Master of Physician Assistant Studies Program, please contact

← Back