The number of students in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant (PA) program at Mary Baldwin University has doubled this semester as a new cohort of PA students began classes January 4 at the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences.

Those students also received white coats at a special ceremony on January 14. The White Coat ceremony symbolized their commitment to become PAs, who balance excellence in medical practice, a strong commitment to service, and compassionate patient care. It was also the first time the students recited the PA Professional Oath.

Mary Mannix, FACHE and CEO of Augusta Health, was the guest speaker.

More than 700 students applied for 40 students in the class of 2019. Forty-eight percent of incoming students are from Virginia.

PAs are in heavy demand. Three quarters of PAs receive multiple job offers upon passing their initial licensing and certification exams, according to the American Academy of PAs. The demand for PAs increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins. As of January 2016, there were more than 108,000 certified PAs nationwide who interact with patients upwards of 350 million times each year.

The inaugural class of PA students, who began their studies a year ago, will begin rotations in May and will graduate in May 2018.

The new Murphy Deming campus in Fishersville opened in June 2014 and plans to graduate its first cohorts of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and nurses with bachelor’s degrees this May.