Chandler Smith, Campus Carrier staff writer
Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
Berry announced new hires in its developing Physician Associate (PA) program and plans for a new three-story health sciences building. An email to students from the President’s Office on Aug. 21 said that the new building would be located between the Cage Center and Physical Plant in what is currently a parking lot behind Moon.
According to Berry College President Steve Briggs, the building’s design is nearly done. Construction is slated to begin next March. Work is expected to last 15 months, with the building opening in June 2025.
The first floor will house skills, simulation and examination labs primarily for nursing students as well as kinesiology classrooms. The second floor will contain the main PA teaching space as well as offices and additional examination rooms.
The building’s location near the service road will allow nursing students to easily access local hospitals. Provost David Slade said that the nursing program, whose facilities are now spread across multiple buildings, will benefit from the consolidation of the new building.
“[The nursing program] is really kind of disintegrated — there is space in Evans that is kind of the nursing space, but where they do their work is in several different places,” Slade said. “[The building] is going to provide some really important unity and resources for that program.”
The third floor will have room for 75 beds in a traditional residence hall reserved for upperclassmen. According to Briggs, the residential space is being built to allow more students to remain on campus and to offer more flexibility in renovations.
“It’s having a little bit of flexibility when we need to do renovation and having the flexibility to be able to keep most of our students on campus,” Briggs said. “We still won’t be able to house all, but some percentage live at home anyway.”
The new building is part of Berry’s investment in its health sciences programs. In May, the college officially announced its intention to start a two-year, graduate-level Physician Associate program. Dr. Victoria Galloway, who has helped develop PA programs at Emory and Henry College and Hawaii Pacific University, was hired as the program director.
Since May, the program has recruited Dr. Ryan Stanger and Dr. Robert King, two Rome-area physicians, to serve as medical director and clinical education director. Berry alumna Beth Gaines (94c), an oncology PA in Atlanta, has been hired as the clinical education director. Briggs said that Berry is leveraging its existing partnerships in the Rome medical community to give PA students local clinical experience.
“We have some good credibility with [local] hospitals, but we also wanted some medical doctors involved in the program who would bring it instant credibility,” Briggs said. “I think it’s an advantage for us that we can offer potentially many of the clinical rotations here in Rome.”
The program must earn provisional accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) before it can admit students.
“We are moving very quickly because of our accreditation timeline,” Dr. Galloway said. “Late spring next year, we’ll be submitting our accreditation application to the ARC-PA. Right now, we are putting before Berry’s graduate council and the appropriate people here our curriculum for approval.”
If the program is granted provisional accreditation, the college plans to open the admission process next May, with students starting in August 2025. Slade said that the college is considering preferences for Berry undergraduate students in the admission process.
“[Some colleges] might guarantee a preliminary step in the process,” Slade said. “Whatever we do with that, that will be decided soon. Whatever we do, it will be public.”
Dr. Galloway plans on sharing information on the PA program for pre-health students with Pre-Health Advisor Christopher Mingone this fall.
Berry’s PA program, will last for two years and culminate in a Master of Medical Science degree. The first year will consist of classroom education, while the second will include eight clinical rotations with medical providers in different specialties. According to Dr. Galloway, the curriculum under development is student-centric.
“Our director of didactic education, Dr. Victor Quinones — he and I are very aligned in making this an immersive curriculum,” Dr. Galloway said. “That means that the core courses that the students will take, they will be learning the same organ systems at the same time across those courses.”
The program plans on hiring four more full-time faculty and two staff members to coordinate admissions and clinical placements.
Physician associates, also known as physician assistants, are licensed medical professionals with the ability to diagnose patients, order tests and prescribe medication. In Georgia, PAs must work with a supervising physician.
Briggs said that the PA program could attract talented undergraduate students in addition to benefitting the local community.
“It’s in keeping with our general breadth, and it makes a lot of sense for where we live and our own community,” Briggs said. “I think it strengthens what we do at the undergraduate level by providing opportunities in areas where they might want to stay for an additional degree.”