Published on August 23, 2019 by Sara Roman  

Aug. 22 was a busy and emotional day for the 36 members of the School of Health Professions inaugural physician assistant studies cohort.

 Prior to the first day of class on Aug. 26, the cohort convened to learn more about Samford, the School of Health Professions, their program and each other. The day began with a devotion followed by introductions.

“The launch of the School of Health Professions physician assistant program is a significant achievement for our school. In 2013, Samford trustees approved the concept of a future physician assistant studies program. Since then, we have worked to create and refine curriculum, solidify clinical placements and we have prayed for the Lord to design the perfect inaugural class,” said Alan Jung, professor and School of Health Professions dean. “Every member of this cohort is here for a reason. We are honored to continue to pray for them and support them as they begin their Samford story and fulfill their callings.”

The inaugural class of 36 was selected from a highly competitive group of over 300 applicants. The cohort comes to Birmingham from 11 states, with 23 students from Alabama. They offer a diverse background of undergraduate studies, including, kinesiology, biological sciences, nutrition, communication sciences and disorders, and international studies. They also offer a diverse range of experience and age. While some are entering the program after recently obtaining their undergraduate degree, others come to the program with multiple years of work experience.

Following the morning devotion, students received a warm welcome from Nena F. Sanders, vice provost of Samford’s College of Health Sciences. “When we proposed the concept of Samford’s College of Health Sciences, part of the vision was to launch a physician assistant studies program,” said Sanders. “We are thrilled this day has come and that we are welcoming this outstanding class of 36 to the college. The addition of the physician assistant program increases the scope of interprofessional educational experiences afforded to students in all programs.”

Marian Carter, assistant dean of enrollment management and student services, led the group through obtaining their parking decals, student identification and other processes that will aide them in a successful start to the semester. The day concluded with a group outing to a Birmingham Barons baseball game where the cohort continued to grow their relationships with each other, faculty and staff. 

“We are excited to have our inaugural cohort on campus,” said Paul Harrelson, assistant professor and physician assistant studies program director and chair. “Our faculty have worked tirelessly for this moment. We are overjoyed to have our students here and to see years of dedication and vision come to fruition.”

At the culmination of the seven-semester program, graduates of the program will earn a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. They will be generalist trained so that throughout the longevity of their careers, they will have the flexibility to move laterally between sub-specialties.

Samford’s physician assistant program is the only private program in the state of Alabama and the first PA program in Alabama to launch in nearly 20 years. Students have the unique opportunity to participate in advanced, interprofessional simulations with students from other departments within the School of Health Professions and students from the School of Public Health, Ida Moffett School of Nursing and McWhorter School of Pharmacy.

To learn more about the physician assistant studies program, visit

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.