Physician Assistant

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (or PA) is a mid-level healthcare provider that can work in multiple settings diagnosing patients, prescribing medications, and even assisting in surgery. A certified Physician Assistant (PA-C) has received a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, completed all the prerequisites required to become accepted into and complete a rigorous 2-3 year program, receiving a Master of Medicine degree, and has passed the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE).  
PA's are a newer concept to healthcare, especially in the southeast. To some, the PA job description is similar to that of a Nurse Practitioner (NP). PAs, however, are trained using a medical model (curriculum) that is more similar to medical school, instead of a nursing model that is used in training nurses and NPs. NPs can practice medicine independently while PA's must work under a Physician. 

American Academy of Physician Assistants – https://www.aapa.org

Things to Consider When Searching for a PA Program:

Physician Assistant (PA) Program Search:

  • Diversity:

    • In 2014, a study found that within the PA profession, 67% of the population was female, and only 33% being male. The same study revealed that 86% of PAs were white, only 4% being African American, 5% Asian, and .5% Native American. The issues of racial disparities and diversity have been addressed by the American Academy of Physician Assistants. and are recognized by the PA profession as well as in its schools. However, this does not mean that you will not face discrimination in school. PA schools and the profession are working adamantly towards correcting and increasing diversity efforts. So for minority applicants, please do not be discouraged, APPLY!
      Other Factors: 
      It is important to explore the structure of the curriculum, national ranking, accreditation, and class-size. In addition to the program overview, the program's website may also have a student ambassador-run blog addressing various topics for prospective students. Questions to consider in evaluating program curriculum: 
      Does the curriculum seem innovative and/or progressive? When was the last time there was a change in curriculum? 
      Do you prefer traditional lectures, online learning, break-out workshops, case studies, or another method? Does this curriculum offer a learning style that works for you? (Keep in mind that your learning style may change throughout PA school, as this is a rigorous program.)
      Do you prefer to work/study independently or to work with classmates on projects? (Programs aim to distribute learning evenly among both methods, but ultimately utilize one more than the other at various stages in the curriculum.) 
      What is the average passing rate for national certification exams? 

  • Cost:

    • The national average cost of PA school is about $75,000 per year for an in-state resident, while $90,000 is the average cost for a non- resident students. Yes, this seems expensive, but once in school, a student will apply for federal student loans as well as a Grad Plus loan. During PA school, students are highly discouraged from attaining a job during this time because of the rigorous course load and time allocated for the class schedule. Note that the cost of attendance includes living expenses such as housing, gas, food, as well as supplies for school (computers/ medical equipment).  

  • Other Factors:

    • It is also important to explore the structure of the curriculum, board pass rate, and dual-degree opportunities. In addition to the program overview, the program’s website may also have a student ambassador-run blog or FAQs addressing various topics for prospective students. Questions to consider in evaluating program curriculum:

      • Does the curriculum seem innovative and/or progressive? When was the last time there was a change in curriculum? Is there a mandatory research component built into the curriculum?

      • Do you prefer traditional lectures, online learning, problem-based learning, case studies, or another method? Does this curriculum offer a learning style that works for you?

      • Will you receive letter grades or Honors/P/F?

      • When will you have your first patient interactions as a medical student? (Some schools offer as early as the first or second week of learning. Some schools wait until clinical rotations.)

      • What is the 5-year pass rate for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2?

      • Does this medical school offer various dual-degree opportunities?

        • If this is something you are interested in, for MD/Ph.D. programs you must apply simultaneously. For most other dual-degree opportunities you are allowed to apply/express interest prior to matriculation.

        • There are also dual-degree BS/MD programs. Click here for more information. 

      • Do you prefer to work/study independently or to work with classmates on projects? (Programs aim to distribute learning evenly among both methods, but ultimately utilize one more than the other at various stages in the curriculum.) 

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