linked in pixel

Xavier University and Ochsner Health Launch New Physician Assistant Program

Xavier University and Ochsner Health Launch New Physician Assistant Program

Xavier University of Louisiana has partnered with Ochsner Health System to establish a new Physician Assistant (PA) Program which begins in January 2020. This new program makes Xavier one of four colleges in Louisiana, one of two in New Orleans, and one of only three HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the nation to offer A Physician Assistant program. Xavier now offers students more than a dozen Master’s degree options.

The Xavier-Ochsner program received provisional national accreditation from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education. ARC-PA is the accrediting agency that protects the interests of the public and PA profession by defining the standards for PA education and evaluating PA educational programs within the territorial United States to ensure their compliance with those standards.

Commonly known as a PA, a physician assistant is a licensed and trained healthcare professional trained in general medicine who works under the supervision of a physician. The American Academy of PAs estimates there are more than 131,000 PAs in the United States today, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physician assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026. Currently, Ochsner has more than 190 PAs working across its health system.

“Our goal at Xavier is to continue expanding our programs and create more opportunities for our students. The new Physician Assistant Program builds strong primary care and public health foundations for students enrolled in the program,” said Dr. Anne McCall, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Xavier University of Louisiana. “This 28-month program will allow students to receive a master’s degree in the health sciences, and students will have the opportunity to participate in over a full year of clinical training within the Ochsner Health System. By creating this partnership our students will get the chance to gain hands-on experience and receive an education that will prepare them to compete on an international level.”

Following three semesters of classroom instruction, the PA students will complete approximately 2,000 hours of hands-on clinical experience through 11 rotations at various Ochsner facilities. Students will work and study with healthcare professionals across a variety of specialties, including Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, General Surgery, Emergency Medicine, Behavioral Health and Women’s Health.

“People are at the core of everything we do at Ochsner and we are committed to training the next generation of healthcare providers. By collaborating and partnering with Xavier on this new PA program, we can train more healthcare professionals here at home in Louisiana. It is our hope that this new pipeline of physician assistants will practice locally and make a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of our communities throughout the state,” said Leonardo Seoane, M.D., FACP, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Ochsner Health System.

Varsha Castro Gusman has been appointed as director of the program and as a Clinical Assistant Professor of professional programs in the Physician Assistant Department. As the founding director, she oversees the degree approval process, plans and develops an accredited curriculum and serves as a classroom instructor, mentor, and advisor to students. A Xavier University alumna, Gusman earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology at Xavier and a Master’s degree in the physician assistant program at Our Lady of the Lake College. Prior to her new role, Gusman served as the Lead Physician Assistant for Ochsner Medical Center’s Neuro Critical Care Unit for five years.

“The future of the healthcare system is projected to be collaborative and diverse, with many different professions working at their highest levels to care for patient needs,” said Gusman. “The physician assistant program at Xavier University has the potential to have a great impact on the health of our communities. Graduates will acquire the knowledge and skills needed to advocate for patients, reduce disparities in access to health care, recognize and treat disorders, and advance prevention of chronic disease.”

The new PA program is the next evolution in a long-standing relationship, which dates to the early 1980s when Ochsner and Xavier’s College of Pharmacy established an affiliation agreement partnership to provide educational experiences to pharmacy students. Through this partnership, Ochsner has provided clinical training for an average of 80 Xavier pharmacy students each year.

Of the more than 500 applications received, 40 aspiring PAs were accepted and will begin classes in January. According to the 2018 Statistical Profile of Physician Assistants published by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), 3.6 percent of PAs are African American. Xavier University’s inaugural class is comprised of 18 percent African Americans and a total of 58 percent minority students.

For more information about the Xavier University and Ochsner Physician Assistant program, visit or call 504-520-5119. For more information about Ochsner Academics, visit or call 504.842.1205.

*Note: The ARC-PA has granted Accreditation-Provisional status to the Xavier University of Louisiana Physician Assistant Program sponsored by Xavier University of Louisiana. 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 or when a program holding Accreditation-Provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students. Accreditation-Provisional does not ensure any subsequent accreditation status. It is limited to no more than five years from matriculation of the first class.

# # #

About Xavier University of Louisiana

Being America’s only historically Black and Catholic University is just the first of the distinctions that have set Xavier University of Louisiana apart for more than eight decades. Despite its relatively small size (3,300 students), Xavier is a nationally recognized leader in the STEM and the health sciences, producing more African American students who graduate from medical schools each year than any other university in the United States. Its College of Pharmacy is among the top producers of African American pharmacists.

Its liberal arts-based programs in such areas as art, business, education, psychology, and political science – as well as such recent additions as bioinformatics, data science, neuroscience, crime and social justice, and jazz studies – offer students an unbeatable combination of traditional classroom study, hands-on research, service-learning opportunities, and life experiences. The winning Xavier formula? Provide students with a well-balanced curriculum and an environment that nurtures their intellect and feeds their souls.

For more information about Xavier University of Louisiana visit us online at www.xula.eduor follow us on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter @XULA1925. To book interviews and/or to speak with our experts in the field of pharmacy, education, premed, public health, science, technology, math, business, English, communications, and the arts, contact Lance Sumler at (504) 520-5240 or

About Ochsner Health System

Ochsner Health is Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, healthcare system. Driven by a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate, coordinated clinical and hospital patient care is provided across the region by Ochsner's 40 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and specialty hospitals, and more than 100 health centers and urgent care centers. Ochsner is the #1 ranked hospital in Louisiana by U.S. News & World Report and is recognized as a “Best Hospital” across two specialty categories caring for patients from all 50 states and more than 70 countries worldwide each year. Ochsner Hospital for Children is the only facility in Louisiana to be recognized as a top 50 children’s hospital by U.S. News & World Report for three consecutive years. Ochsner employs nearly 25,000 employees and over 4,500 employed and affiliated physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties and conducts more than 700 clinical research studies. Ochsner Health is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.