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MHSA – Message from the Dean

Photo of Michael Nichols, Program Director, Anesthesiologist Assistant Program

We are proud to bring an Anesthesiologist Assistant educational program built on the foundation of VCOM’s excellence in medical education and Bluefield University’s focus on servant leadership. The MHSA program is an extension of the institutional mission to bring high-quality healthcare to medically underserved and historically disadvantaged populations with a compassionate and empathetic mindset.

Now more than ever, opportunities abound for Anesthesiologist Assistants. Technological advances, changing economic patterns, healthcare reform, and a more diverse patient population have made our healthcare system progressively more complex, and have consequently placed CAAs in demand like never before. Graduates of the VCOM-Bluefield MHSA program will be leaders in the profession because of a strong educational foundation, a focus on quality improvement in their clinical settings, and an appreciation for service to the global community. VCOM boasts one of the most diverse medical student bodies in the country with more students hailing from rural geographies and minority communities than most comparable institutions nationally…attributes that the MHSA program looks forward to fulfilling as well. We pride ourselves on a “From There – To There” recruitment model, focusing our efforts on driving growth and expansion of CAA practice in the Southeast sectors of the country. As a CAA myself, I can tell you that the program’s outstanding faculty and inclusive educational environment will result in an unrivaled academic experience.

Our students also have the opportunity to make a difference as they learn — beginning as early as the summer transition from first to the second year, students have the option to attend medical mission trips to countries where VCOM operates year-round medical facilities in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Honduras. Here, under the supervision of VCOM and program faculty, students may incorporate the clinical skills they have gained for the betterment of appreciative individuals who otherwise have limited access to health care. The Program has a well-developed and well-organized clinical education where students participate in core rotations at core regional sites with appointed and paid faculty advancing the clinical development of Anesthesiologist Assistant students in general and specialty areas of anesthesia. The Program faculty and staff promote growth and vitality in teaching, research, scholarship, service, and outreach, with their focus on excellence in medical education and servant leadership.

Our curriculum is a bold hybrid mixture of didactic instruction, immersive simulation-based learning in our state-of-the-art simulation center, and clinical clerkships with community anesthesia groups throughout Alabama, North Georgia, and Upstate South Carolina. The integrated and physiologically based curriculum emphasizes themes of scholarship, quality improvement, professionalism, and servant leadership right from the start and is taught in parallel with the basic sciences that underpin anesthesia practice. We designed the curriculum with input from all sectors of the profession to provide the student with a strong foundation of medical and anesthesia knowledge, a robust clinical experience, and opportunities to enhance their career through advanced certification and humanitarian outreach experiences with our Appalachian and Caribbean partners. Most importantly, we stress the expectation that students “own their education” and be responsible for individual learning, which creates habits of lifelong development and equips them with the tools to engage and evaluate new information.

As a jointly sponsored program, our Program offers students access to the tremendous educational resources at both Bluefield University and VCOM, all set on the stunning campus of Auburn University. These resources include interactive classrooms equipped with the latest media and computer technology, electronic journals and books, and a robust simulation program featuring high-fidelity immersive learning. Simulation experiences are introduced in the first block and intensify throughout the first year to better prepare the student for the clinical environment. To prepare for the complexity of the clinical setting, students learn the principles of crisis management and non-technical skills to apply them in a high-fidelity setting in the immersive simulation lab.

Our program’s greatest asset is our dedicated didactic and clinical faculty who continuously evaluate and improve our curriculum and learning environment. Their goal is to develop our students into colleagues, and we are proud to offer clinical experiences across the State of Alabama and in the Appalachian foothill regions of the Southeast United States. We are honored to offer a “one program, two campuses” programmatic model with our esteemed partners at Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville in northeast Georgia…allowing a single program to have an impactful presence in two separate geographic regions.

At the MHSA program, our goal is to educate the finest advanced practice anesthesia providers in the country. We accomplish this through training practitioners who care for patients with competence, grace, and integrity in a setting that fosters a collegial environment, leadership, and excellence. Most of all, we are a community committed to increasing knowledge and deepening understanding.


Michael S. Nichols, CAA, MBA
Program Director, Anesthesiologist Assistant Programs

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