MSU-Meridian’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program achieves Accreditation-Provisional status, selects first cohort

Contact: Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A new Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree program at Mississippi State University-Meridian has achieved Accreditation-Provisional status and will enroll its first cohort at the Riley Campus in downtown Meridian this January. Shey Washburn, left, and Tara Milligan, assistant clinical professors with MSU-Meridian’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, demonstrate patient simulation equipment that will be used as part of the rigorous 29-month curriculum. The program’s

The Accreditation-Provisional status is the initial phase of accreditation for all new programs and officially was granted by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, or ARC-PA, via a recent letter to MSU President Mark E. Keenum.

“Located in a longtime Mississippi healthcare center like Meridian, the Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree program is a tremendous fit for MSU-Meridian and for East Central Mississippi,” said Keenum. “As we look to the future, there is going to be a growing demand for these medical professionals, especially in Mississippi and other rural states across the country.”

Program administrators have made final selections from over 250 applicants and 50 finalists competing for 20 available cohort slots to begin studies in Jan. 6, 2021.

MSU-Meridian Associate Vice President and Head of Campus Terry Dale Cruse said generous contributions from the Riley and Phil Hardin foundations helped make the program possible. He said the university also has made a considerable investment in bringing the only publicly funded program to the state.

“We’re excited to launch a program aimed at meeting critical healthcare needs of our state,” Cruse said. “I’m extremely grateful for the support of our local medical centers, physicians, excellent faculty and university leadership through this intensive process.”

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 Statistics projects the occupational outlook for PAs will increase by 31 percent through 2029. The MSU program mission is to “educate highly qualified, competent healthcare providers who will increase access to care and provide primary care services to the diverse citizens of Mississippi.”

Cruse said 258 applications were submitted by prospective students before the Aug. 1 deadline. Of the 54 finalists invited to recent interviews, 15 are Mississippians with the others representing Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Candidates from Mississippi were given preference in consideration, with 67% of those interviewed offered a seat in the class. Cruse said PA classes begin Jan. 6, 2021 in the Rosenbaum Health Sciences Building.

Additionally, more than 400 clinical preceptors have been established throughout Mississippi, and agreements include a memorandum of understanding with the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Dr. Debra Munsell, MSU associate professor and program director, said 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.

She explained that applications for the rigorous 29-month program have been accepted through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants, known as CASPA. All prospective students must apply for any PA program in the U.S. through CASPA. Next year’s application period will begin in late April and extend through Aug. 1.

Munsell joined the university in 2017 to lead the program implementation after the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning approved MSU-Meridian’s proposal to plan the new degree program. 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% pass rate on the exit exam for the first three cohorts of graduates.

Munsell has served on many national and statewide committees focused on PAs and spent over a decade as a PA faculty member in other states. She has more than 30 years of related clinical experience. The Bridge City, 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.

Dr. J. Lee Valentine, D.O., is the program’s medical director, having 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 also has served as chair of the Department of Family Practice at the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

For more on MSU-Meridian’s PA program, visit or email

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

The ARC-PA has granted Accreditation-Provisional status to the Mississippi State University Physician Assistant Program sponsored by Mississippi State University.

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. 

Accreditation-Provisional does not ensure any subsequent accreditation status. It is limited to no more than five years from matriculation of the first class.

The program’s accreditation history can be viewed on the ARC-PA website at

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