ALBERMARLE, N.C. — Pfeiffer University broke ground today for a $16 million Center for Health Sciences to be located on Main Street in Albemarle. It will house the school’s new Physician Assistant Studies and Occupational Therapy programs.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center continues to break new ground with its Clinician Innovation Initiative (CII) that encourages physician assistants (PAs) like those who will graduate from Pfeiffer to become medical innovators.

Construction on the Center for Health Sciences begins almost immediately and the building will open in May 2020. Pfeiffer plans to admit twenty-four students during the first year of the Physician Assistant Studies program. An estimated 36 students will join them in 2021, with an anticipated enrollment of 45 annually beginning in 2022.The facility will house the Center for Advanced Clinical Simulation Education—or CACSE—which will include four simulated ICU rooms, one surgical suite and one emergency department trauma bay. Each of these areas will be equipped with computerized human simulators. CACSE also will feature a fully functional clinic with six exam rooms where physician assistant students can interact with patients.

NCBiotech’s Clinician Innovation Initiative also is new. CII was launched in the summer of 2018 thanks to the efforts of Corie Curtis, NCBiotech’s executive director of the Greater Charlotte Office, and Greta Brunet, the organization’s senior director of investments. Brunet also is an experienced PA. CII works with PAs and other clinicians in the healthcare delivery system to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship that will improve patient care.

“We want to increase the number and quality of new technologies and products developed by the clinicians in our state,” Brunet said. “We’ve focused on physician assistants because North Carolina has one of the highest PA populations in the country, more than 6,900 professionals who daily identify clinical problems in need of creative solutions. They see what works and what doesn’t work with their patients and are well-positioned to find innovative answers that can make a difference.”

Shawn Gage, who formerly was a PA in vascular surgery at Duke University, is just one example. He and his clinical partner and mentor, former Duke vascular surgeon Jeffrey Lawson M.D., Ph.D.,  saw a need to improve the surgically implanted arteriovenous grafts used for dialysis. The grafts could leak, constrict or collapse and cause serious complications for patients.  So the two clinicians went to work to build a better mousetrap. In the process, they started a new company, InnAVasc Medical, which is now led by CEO Joe Knight. InnAVasc is well on the way to developing a different type of graft that, if successful, will make life easier for many thousands of  dialysis patients. NC Biotech supported product research with a $250,000 loan.

Shawn Gage, PA.

“We don’t expect every PA to become an entrepreneur or to start a company,” Curtis pointed out. “But by exposing clinicians to innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, we can create the ‘spark’ that encourages them to be problem solvers. That can lead to new technologies and products that improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.”

As part of that effort, CII has partnered with the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants (NCAPA) to help raise awareness and encourage innovation. In the process, Brunet and Curtis hope to broaden the way PAs and other clinicians look at their jobs. And when the first class of students arrives at Pfeiffer’s Center for Health Sciences a little over a year from now, they hope to work with them as well.

According to the NCAPA, Pfeiffer’s PA program will be the 12th in North Carolina.