Brian KirschnerContact Email:
The path for students to become a physician assistant (PA) with a master of science in health sciences degree was made easier during the tenure of former senior vice president for academic affairs Barbara Byrne, PhD. Dr. Byrne was able to help Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and University of the Sciences in Philadelphia establish a joint five-year accelerated degree program grounded in a science and clinical background.
Partially in recognition of her role as a central contributor and collaborator for the PA partnership and a health policy joint degree program between the two schools, Dr. Byrne was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from PCOM at its Graduate Programs Commencement on July 25. The award also recognizes her commitment to undergraduate research, educational innovation, research, and teaching.
“The joint physician assistant studies program was the vision of the two presidents, Dr. Gerbino and Dr. Leonard Finkelstein, who is now chancellor at PCOM,” Dr. Byrne recalled. “It helped that Dr. Finkelstein was a Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science graduate and the two presidents understood clearly how each institution could enrich the other. Otherwise, our partnership would have been much longer in coming to fruition, if it happened at all.”
The result is that USP students in the PA program spend the first three years taking pre-professional courses in science, social sciences and the humanities at University of the Sciences. The final two years of the professional phase are fulfilled at PCOM doing clinical work.
One of Dr. Byrne’s first charges when she arrived at University of the Sciences in 1997 was to support the process which had been started by Ruth Schemm, EdD, who at the time was the chair of occupational therapy.
Dr. Byrne recognizes that she was “only one piece of the USP team that nurtured our partnership” and credits Dr. Schemm and Dr. Robert Cuzzolino, vice president for graduate programs at PCOM, for being largely responsible for making the program happen.
“We worked hard to develop an innovative PA program. We also developed a joint Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and PhD in health policy program,” Dr. Byrne said. The joint program gives DO students the opportunity to earn a PhD in health policy while they are completing their medical studies.
Dr. Byrne, who is enjoying retirement since stepping down last summer, might have thought her days of donning a cap and gown were over. But now she has to make a little more room in her closet next to her academic regalia.
“I did get a new hood,” she said proudly.