In January of 1975, the first class of physician assistant students entered the program which was founded by the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Rutgers Medical School and Rutgers University-School of Arts and Sciences. The program was developed by individuals from both institutions as a result of information gathered from local physicians in NJ regarding their interest in hiring a PA. At that time PAs were not authorized to practice, but it was believed by the time the first class graduated in May of 1977, legislation would be enacted. No one knew that it would be 15 years before this would be true.
In the meantime, the School of Health Professions (SHP) in Newark had opened its doors in 1976 and assumed responsibility for the PA program. However, the program remained in Piscataway because of its affiliation with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School faculty who teach many of the first year basic science courses. The College of Medicine and Dentistry became the University of Medicine and Dentistry and the UMDNJ – SHP PA Program was named for its school affiliations.
In 1978, Ruth Fixelle, a graduate of the class of that same year joined the faculty as clinical supervisor and in 1981 she assumed the role of Program Director. She remained Program Director until her retirement in 2014. In 2014, Jill Reichman became the Program’s Director.
Under the leadership of Ruth Fixelle and Jill Reichman, who joined the faculty in 1981, improvements in the program began. These included the expansion of Histology and Cell Biology and Neuroanatomy to full semesters and the addition of other courses including Nutrition, Health Maintenance and Human Development, ECG Interpretation, Biochemistry, Problem Based Learning, Case Based Learning, and Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Until 1992 graduates of the Program found jobs outside of NJ. But in 1992, after years of lobbying by the program faculty and other members of the New Jersey State Society of Physician Assistants, legislation was passed allowing for PA practice in New Jersey.
In 1997, the Program awarded its first Master’s degrees to its graduates with the degree conferred by Rutgers-SHP. Prior to that point, students were awarded a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Certificate of Completion from UMDNJ.
The first articulated BA/MS Program was founded with Rutgers University in 1996. This program was instituted to provide students with an alternate way of entering the profession and earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in six (6) years. The first individuals to complete this articulated program graduated in May, 1999. Today, the Program also has articulated BA/MS Programs with several other colleges and universities in New Jersey.
The Program began offering a dual MS/MPH degree in 2004. This offering allows students to complete their PA Master’s degree along with an MPH from the Rutgers School of Public Health within 4 years of full-time study. In July of 2013, UMDNJ merged with Rutgers University and the Program was renamed Rutgers University PA Program.
Over the years, the Program has continued to grow with a current class size of 50, a core faculty of 15, and a staff of five. The program continuously revises and updates its curriculum to meet the demands of the profession. Recent enhancements include such things as a curricular revision of the preclinical course work to a systems-based modular design and the introduction of iPads for students in the didactic phase of the program.