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The Professor Is In: Steven Sweitzer

News Story

Pace’s founding director of the new physician assistant program in Pleasantville talks to us about the legwork involved in establishing a new program, and how he hopes it’ll make a major difference both locally and globally.

College of Health Professions' Clinical Associate Professor Steven Sweitzer, PA-C, comes to Pace after 30 years in private practice neurosurgery, having worked at several different hospitals in Connecticut. As the founding director of the new physician assistant (PA) program in Pleasantville, Sweitzer took some time out of his busy schedule to tell the Pace Community about the program and its aims to fill a major need in the Hudson Valley region.

You helped found the new PA program in Pleasantville. Tell us about it!

I was hired by Pace in November 2016 to start a new physician assistant program based in Pleasantville. The College of Health Professions wanted to increase the number of physician assistants that Pace currently produces from its Lenox Hill program in New York City. Exploring the different options available, we decided to create a new physician assistant program, completely different from the highly successful Lenox Hill program in New York City. The physician assistant program in Pleasantville has a unique mission and vision with completely different curriculum and faculty than the Pace University-Lenox Hill Program in New York City.

We spent the last 18 months developing curriculum, hiring faculty, and undergoing a rigorous accreditation process. We also had to prepare an application to register a new program with the New York State Education Department. This past March, we were accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Physician Assistant Education (ARC-PA), and in April, we received notice of registration of a new program by the Office of the Professions in New York State.

We started interviewing students right away—our goal was 30 students, which we were successful in completing by July 1.

What makes the Pleasantville program unique?

What makes our program a little different is our vision and mission. We focus on underserved, under-represented populations. We draw mostly from the Hudson Valley—with the concept that if you’re from the Hudson Valley, you’re more likely to stay in the Hudson Valley.

We have a strong emphasis on applicants having prior demonstration of service to the community. The theory being that if students volunteered in some service capacity prior to PA school, they’re more likely to practice in underserved areas after graduation.

Our major aim is to train primary care PAs to go into underserved areas and sectors after graduation. When I say areas and sectors, traditionally we think of inner city clinics and rural settings that have a hard time attracting providers, but we also have underserved sectors, where they’re having difficulty getting primary care providers. For example: the military, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These are all areas where we have clinical clerkships for our students to experience working in underserved sectors. The idea being that if you gain experience working in a certain setting, you might find that it’s something you’d ultimately like to do in a longer-term capacity.  

From personal experience, 20 years ago, as a PA student, I had a required rotation with the Coast Guard. It was such a rewarding experience that after graduation I sought out an opportunity to work with the military. I ended up joining the Air National Guard, and spent 30 years with them. 

Where do you hope to see the program five years from now?

The limiting factor for most PA programs is the availability of clinical sites to do the clinical rotations. We are somewhat fortunate by the fact that since our mission is to train in diverse settings, this has made us explore clinical affiliations out of the region. Currently, we have clinical sites including the Bureau of Prisons in Danbury, Connecticut; Coast Guard clinics in Clearwater, Florida, and Puerto Rico; the Coast Guard Academy in New London; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico. We are continually looking for additional locations that are consistent with our mission that will provide quality education for our students. 

If you could invite any four people to a dinner party, living or dead, who would you invite?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one!