The 2022-23 state budget has designated $10 million to Cal State San Bernardino to establish a Master of Science Physician Assistant (MSPA) Program to help address the critical shortage of healthcare professionals serving the Inland Empire.

The funding in the state budget, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, was championed by state Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside), making CSUSB the first Southern California public university to offer the program.

“Our region has long suffered a shortage of healthcare professionals that was exacerbated by the pandemic,” Roth said. “This shortage was not the result of a lack of interest in the profession, but by a bottleneck in the education system that failed to develop slots for waiting students. CSUSB has stepped up to the plate to address this crisis.

“I am proud to have worked with CSUSB to procure the state funding necessary to launch the first Master of Science Physician Assistant Program offered by a public university in inland Southern California, and only the second such program to be offered at a CSU,” he said. “Congratulations Coyotes!”

In July 2021, Roth successfully worked to obtain $1.8 million in initial state funding for the CSUSB MSPA program.

The need for healthcare professionals is especially crucial in the rapidly growing racially and ethnically diverse San Bernardino-Riverside county region, where 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, the Inland Empire has a shortfall of 1,500 primary care physicians.

“We are thankful for Sen. Roth’s continuing efforts to enhance healthcare in the inland region,” said CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales. “With this tremendous state support, our goal is clear. Cal State San Bernardino, through our dedicated faculty, staff and administrators, will work to help our local communities’ healthcare needs by making our MSPA program one of the best in the state and nation.” 

As one of the largest Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) in the country, Morales said that CSUSB will have a special focus in recruiting area graduate students from diverse and underserved communities based on the Inland Empire 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.

Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the CSUSB College of Natural Sciences, where the program will be housed, said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to truly make a deep and profound impact on the health and wellness of our local communities. A need for training healthcare professionals, especially physician assistants, is obvious and the lingering pandemic extenuated the need further.

“The College of Natural Sciences at CSUSB has been a leader in training future nurses, healthcare professionals, kinesiologists and sending its science graduates to medical programs,” Pantula said. “We are very grateful for this funding from the state to develop, get accredited, and launch the program that will have a long-term, positive impact in having healthy people in this community.” 

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 and CSUSB’s College of Extended and Global Education. The College of Natural Sciences biology, chemistry and biochemistry, health sciences, kinesiology, and nursing departments already have an established track record of preparing students for continued education at medical and professional schools, as well as providing them the training and job-ready experiences to enter many wellness- and healthcare-related fields and industries.

The funding will help the program, which gained permission from the CSU Chancellor’s Office in March 2022, and now will go through the approval process through the curriculum committees, faculty senate and the accreditation process.