A drizzly morning at Cal State San Bernardino sent the groundbreaking ceremony for the developing Master of Science in Physician Assistant (MSPA) program indoors, but that did little to dampen the celebratory mood of those who attended the event, marking a significant milestone for the program.

“This is a game changer for Cal State San Bernardino, absolutely. And a game changer for our region that has one of the lowest ratio primary care health care providers to patients in the United States,” said Tomás D. Morales, president of CSUSB. The ceremony on April 26 inside an auditorium in the Visual Arts building marked a formal and visible milestone in establishing an MSPA program at CSUSB, which will be the first inland Southern California public university to do so.

Another milestone was achieved on April 25, just the day before, when the developing program began accepting applications for its first cohort for the fall of 2025. With 40 slots in the inaugural group, Morales said more than 600 applications and inquiries were received in the first 24 hours. The application period will be open until Dec. 1. Admissions requirements can be found on the MSPA Requirements webpage.

“The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of communities and address access to care in underserved areas throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties, increasing the healthcare workforce with clinicians trained and equipped to support individuals’ health and well-being,” Morales said. “We want to graduate linguistically and culturally competent (physician assistants) that are committed, that share the same commitment that the members of this university share, in the Inland Empire.”

He added, “One of the primary areas that set CSUSB's MSPA program apart is that it will be much more community-focused and forward-facing. For example, the curriculum will have students out in the communities early on in the program to learn firsthand about community needs, interact with patients, and approach patient care with compassion and cultural humility.”

The vision for the program began about four years ago, when Morales said the university needed to find ways to tackle the healthcare disparities in the two-county region of San Bernardino and Riverside, according to Robert Nava, CSUSB vice president of University Advancement.

State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, also had the same concerns. Roth had been working since he was elected in 2012 to find ways to meet the needs of the region’s 4.6 million residents who, he said, face “an acute shortage of primary care providers, having only about 35 physicians per 100,000 residents ... And we’re living in the 21st century in California, the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world.”

In his remarks, U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, who worked with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., to obtain $2 million in federal funding, said, “For us in the community, what that means is access to care is often delayed. For residents in our community, they struggle. They struggle to be seen by a doctor. They struggle to be seen by a primary care physician. That's why Sen. Roth advocated at the state, and why I advocated at the federal level, to support CSUSB's MSPA program.”

Roth recalled meeting with Morales and Pam Langford, who was the assistant vice president for Governmental Relations at the time. “The president clearly had a vision, and so did I,” Roth said. “It was a vision to provide opportunities for students seeking careers in healthcare, serving our most vulnerable in our most healthcare-challenged regions of this particular state. Working with your amazing president, the stars happened to align a couple of years ago from a budget standpoint.”

That resulted, since 2021, in Roth successfully obtaining more than $16 million to support the program, which includes hiring personnel and creating the new facility. “You are poised to deliver high-quality health care services better, quicker, and more efficiently to more people every day,” Roth said. “And in doing so, you will change our communities forever.”

Sonia V. Otte, MSPA founding program director, previously created the MSPA program at the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont. When she was hired in 2022 to help develop the program, Roth had obtained $11.8 million for it, with another $2 million in federal funds in the pipeline.

“Those were amazing signs of confidence that CSUSB can and will deliver on its mission, a mission to make a tangible impact in our communities,” Otte said. “Our MSPA program hopes to carry on the CSUSB mission and vision by building a qualified healthcare workforce here in the Inland Empire. Our program is committed to creating engaging, meaningful educational experiences for our students that will prepare them to be culturally humble clinicians and future healthcare leaders.”

Those unique elements in CSUSB’s MSPA program will comprise: a focus on community and behavioral health, early clinical experiences, active learning and educational technology, student wellness and support, and integration of telemedicine.

The eventual goal is to expand the cohort to 50 students, but gradually and over time. The revamped facilities will be designed to accommodate that eventual 50 number. “My hope is to remain at 40 until we have gone through our provisional accreditation process before we start expanding,” Otte said in a previous interview.

“The establishment of an MSPA program at CSUSB to serve the Inland Empire goes hand-in-hand with its mission as an anchor institution in the region,” said Rafik Mohamed, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “It comes with an obligation to meet the needs of the surrounding community,” he continued. “And there is no greater need in the Inland Empire at this point than closing the gap between primary care providers and other health care workers and the demand.”

Said Otte: “We still have considerable work ahead of us, but I'm grateful and excited about the future of our program, and more importantly, the future of health care here in the Inland Empire.”

For more information, visit the Master of Science in Physician Assistant program website.

Accreditation Status of MSPA Program

CSUSB has applied for Accreditation-Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The university anticipates matriculating its first class in August 2025, pending achieving Accreditation-Provisional status at the March 2025 ARC-PA meeting.

Accreditation-Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards. Accreditation-Provisional status is also granted when a proposed program appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the ARC-PA Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students. In the event the program does not earn accreditation-provisional status, students will not matriculate, and admissions deposits will be refunded. CSUSB is fully accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).