Cal State San Bernardino will become the first Southern California public university to establish a Master of Science Physician Assistant program to help address the severe shortage of healthcare professionals serving the Inland Empire.

The $1.8 million funding for the MSPA program in the upcoming California state budget was the result of the work by state Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside) in his goal to improve and increase access to healthcare to help the underserved in the inland region.

“For too long, Inland Southern California has suffered the disparate impacts of an under-resourced and overburdened primary care provider workforce,” said Sen. Roth. “This critical investment will bolster our frontline primary care providers and expand access to care in our neediest communities by providing students increased opportunities to enter the health care sector.”

In the rapidly growing racially and ethnically diverse area of Inland Southern California, the shortage of healthcare professionals is particularly severe, with just 35 primary care physicians per 100,000 patients, far fewer than the recommended range of 60 to 80 primary care physicians per 100,000 patients. Currently, Inland Southern California has a shortfall of 1,500 primary care physicians.

“We are grateful for Sen. Roth’s dedication to increasing the number of healthcare professionals to help the people in the inland region,” said CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales. “Combined with the efforts of our faculty, staff and administrators, Cal State San Bernardino will strive to make our MS Physician Assistant program stand out as one of the best in the state and nation.

Morales added that as one of the largest Hispanic Serving Institutions in the country, CSUSB will have a special focus in recruiting area graduate students from diverse and underserved communities based on Inland Southern California being one of the fastest growing racially and ethnically diverse regions in the country, and the need to increase the number of local PAs that speak a second language or are from minority communities.

CSUSB Provost Shari McMahan agreed with President Morales adding that the budget approval will help the university.

“This is a big step toward establishing the CSUSB MS Physician Assistant program,” McMahan said. “This is long and involved process that includes gaining permission from the CSU Chancellor’s Office and approval of the curriculum by the faculty senate, but we are excited to make it a reality.”

The MSPA program is expected to be launched in fall of 2024 with a cohort of 30 students, and grow to a maximum of 85 students within three years. CSUSB will give preferred admission to eligible permanent inland area students with the goal of retaining these future physician assistants in the region.

CSUSB, which has campuses in San Bernardino and Palm Desert, is uniquely positioned to operate the MSPA program with its highly regarded science and nursing programs, and its existing partnerships with local hospitals. The $1.8 million in state funding will help launch the program, and CSUSB will seek additional government investment and private contributions to fully establish the program.